Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa) | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa)

Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa)

Freedom of the Press 2006

2006 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

81

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

31

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

25

The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but President Joseph Kabila's transitional government restricted press freedom in practice. Officials used an array of prohibitive licensing and criminal libel laws to restrict free speech and suppress political criticism by shutting down broadcast operations and seizing copies of newspapers critical of the authorities. In January, broadcasts at two private television stations and a radio station owned by Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba, leader of the former rebel Mouvement de Liberation du Congo party, were suspended after the stations aired a press conference critical of President Kabila. Also in January, the government banned all religious and specialty radio and television stations from broadcasting political and news programming and from running any phone-in programs. The ban was lifted a month later, but the pervasive atmosphere of censorship still prevails. In June, President Kabila declared that the planned elections would be postponed, causing a wave of furious opposition rallies and an intensification of abuse and censorship of the media. Armed police closed a television station and two radio stations belonging to the private RAGA group and briefly detained its director. The High Media Authority (HAM), the official regulatory body, ordered RAGA's broadcasts suspended for 10 days, charging that its reporting was "blatantly partial." Again in December, HAM suspended eight television stations for discussing the constitutional referendum without permission. HAM had earlier authorized only a small number of stations to air content related to the referendum, citing frequent professional lapses by those it had excluded.

For most of 2005, Congolese journalists worked in a tense preelectoral climate, enduring physical abuse, threats, and harassment from all parties to the country's debilitating internal strife. Worst among these incidents, on November 3 unknown gunmen killed a political affairs journalist with the independent daily La Reference Plus. He was shot dead along with his wife in the capital, Kinshasa, in an execution-style murder believed to be connected to his work. At year's end, three army officers remained in police custody on suspicion of committing the killings. At least one suspect maintains he confessed to the crime only under police torture. Instances of harassment and physical intimidation of journalists were particularly severe in the eastern Ituri, Kivu, and Kasai provinces, where the transition government in Kinshasa exercises little control and armed groups continue to terrorize journalists. According to Journaliste En Danger, a national press freedom advocacy group, self-censorship among the press in these regions worsened around the July murder of a prominent human rights activist. In late April, Mai-Mai militiamen in Katanga province took five local journalists hostage, reportedly to protest the arrest of their leader, before they released the journalists five days later in exchange for 270 bicycles from MONUC, the United Nations peacekeeping mission.

The people of the Democratic Republic of Congo are largely illiterate and depend upon radio broadcasts for the news. Nonetheless, many private newspapers exist, and although not always objective, they are often able to be highly critical of the government. Multiple privately owned radio and television stations also operate in tandem with two state-owned radio stations as well as a state-owned television station. The state-owned broadcasters operate with a pro-government bias but permit other major political parties represented in the government to gain access to airtime. Together with the Swiss-funded Fondation Hirondelle, MONUC operates an independent countrywide radio network, Radio Okapi, which has set new standards for reporting and media objectivity in a volatile political scene. Journalists in all major media outlets are usually poorly paid and lack sufficient training, making them vulnerable to bribery and political manipulation. The government refrains from any overt internet censorship. However, less than 1 percent of the population was able to access the internet in 2005 due to the volatility of the political situation, which made internet access difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.