Freedom of the Press
Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa)
Freedom of the Press 2010
Congo, Democratic Republic of (Kinshasa)
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The law provides for freedom of speech and of the press, but these rights are limited in practice by President Joseph Kabila’s government and various nonstate actors. Officials used an array of regulations and laws to restrict free speech and suppress political criticism in 2009 by bringing criminal charges against journalists, shutting down broadcast operations, and seizing copies of newspapers that were critical of the authorities. No progress was reported in local journalists’ efforts to initiate reforms of the penal code and the 1996 press law, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Several Congolese journalists spent time in jail in 2009. For example, Nsimba Embete Ponte, a Kinshasa-based newspaper director, was arrested in late 2008 and sentenced to 10 months in prison for “insulting the head of state” in connection with reporting on Kabila’s health. Local media outlets are also subject to regulation by the High Authority on Media (HAM). The agency’s mandate is to ensure freedom of expression, but it has the power to temporarily suspend outlets for hate speech and other serious ethical transgressions, and its decisions have at times been criticized as politically biased. In October 2009, the National Assembly passed a bill establishing a new regulatory agency, the High Council for Broadcasting, though its independence has yet to be established.
Government officials and security agents throughout the country frequently harassed critical journalists and media outlets, often via the national intelligence agency, known as the ANR. At least 23 local journalists were detained without due process in 2009 in connection with their work, according to the press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED). Nonstate actors, including armed groups, also subjected local journalists to threats and abuse. In June, UN Special Rapporteur Margaret Sekaggya stated that in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), journalists “who report on human rights abuses committed by state and nonstate actors are killed, threatened, tortured, or arbitrarily arrested and their offices raided.” JED documented fewer individual cases of press freedom abuses—such as assault, arbitrary arrest, threats, and censorship—in 2009 than in 2008; however, the organization concluded that this was attributable not to an improvement in media freedom, but to self-censorship stemming from a fear of reprisals. Journalists working in the east, where the military has launched a year-long offensive against rebels of Rwandan origin, were particularly vulnerable to threats and censorship. Three journalists have been murdered in the past three years in Bukavu, capital of the eastern province of South Kivu. The most recent victim, radio presenter Bruno Koko Chirambiza, was stabbed to death in August 2009 as he was walking home from a wedding. No arrests were reported in connection with the killing. In July 2009, the government barred FM broadcasting by Radio France Internationale (RFI), though it remained accessible on shortwave; authorities accused the French station of “demoralizing” the Congolese armed forces and “attempting to destabilize the country” in connection with its reporting on the civil conflict. Several months earlier, the government had banned RFI broadcasts in the eastern cities of Bunia and Bukavu. In September 2009, three prominent women journalists in South Kivu, where mass rape has been employed by multiple armed groups, received anonymous death threats via mobile-telephone text messages after producing a series of radio programs spotlighting women’s issues.
The population of DRC is largely illiterate and depends on radio broadcasts for the news. Nonetheless, many private newspapers are published, and although they are not always objective, they are often highly critical of the government. Private newspapers must pay a license fee of 250,000 Congolese francs (US$280) and meet other administrative requirements before operating. There are several hundred privately owned radio and television stations, in addition to three state-owned radio stations and a state-owned television station. The state broadcasters reportedly favor Kabila’s party, though other political parties represented in the government are occasionally granted access. The UN mission in DRC (MONUC) operates the only nationwide independent radio network, Radio Okapi, which has set new standards for reporting and media objectivity in a volatile political scene. Many media outlets are reportedly owned by public figures and used for political propaganda rather than objective reporting. Journalists at major outlets are usually poorly paid and lack sufficient training, leaving them vulnerable to bribery and political manipulation. While internet access has spread in urban areas thanks to the proliferation of private internet cafes, less than 1 percent of the population was able to go online on a regular basis in 2009. The government did not engage in internet censorship.