Freedom of the Press
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Despite constitutional guarantees that protect freedom of expression and the press, the media in Angola continues to operate in a restrictive environment. In 2010, state-run media continued to be the predominant source of information, as the government maintained tight control over private media outlets through legal and political means. The year was also a violent one for media workers, as a number of journalists were harassed, intimidated, and attacked.
While the constitution provides for basic liberties such as freedom of expression, recent laws passed by parliament regarding state security and insult hamper the free activities of the media. Defamation continues to be a crime punishable by imprisonment. In November 2010, the Angolan parliament passed a new state security law meant to replace the old law, known as Article 26 of 1978, which was often utilized by the government to imprison opposition journalists and activists. While the new law is an improvement from the 1978 law, it still allows for the detention of persons who “insult” the Republic of Angola or the president in “public meetings or by disseminating words, images, writings or sound.” This clause leaves room for the arbitrary detention of political opponents of the government and does not meet international standards of freedom of expression.
The government continues to give preferential treatment to state-owned media. Interviews with top politicians and state officials as well as access to information related to the government are usually only granted to progovernment or state-run outlets. Despite the existence of a law guaranteeing access to public information, in practical terms accessing information remains extremely difficult. The president, Ministry of Communication, and Ministry of Information also have the right to censor material. In 2010, this included coverage of the January attack on members of the Togolese soccer team in the enclave of Cabinda. Many journalists practice self-censorship for fear of reprisal.
There was unprecedented violence against journalists in 2010, as many were the target of intimidation, hostility, and aggression. In October, journalist Rafael Marques was detained and harassed by police forces, allegedly because of his antigovernment position. In another incident that month, radio host Antonio Manuel da Silva was stabbed by unknown assailants who claimed he deserved it because his radio show had recently made fun of President Jose Eduardo dos Santos. In a more serious case, radio host Alberto Chakussanga was fatally shot in his own home in September. Chakussanga hosted an Umbundu-language program on Radio Despertar, a station that was often critical of the ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) party. The government had previously targeted the station and attempted to censor its hosts because the radio station continually “issues calls for civilian disobedience.” Prior to Chakussanga’s murder, an MPLA spokesperson issued a public warning to journalists who “conspire” against dos Santos. As of the end of the year, the state had failed to arrest or prosecute anyone for these crimes. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, foreign journalists have faced difficulties in receiving accreditation and press permits, particularly for reporting on sensitive issues or regions. Self-censorship by journalists at both state-run and private outlets is commonplace.
The government also keeps tight control over the largest media outlets in the country. The state-owned newspaper Jornal de Angola and television channel TPA (Televisao Publica de Angola) remain the most widely utilized media sources in the country, and together with state-owned Radio National de Angola (RNA), they are the only outlets with a national reach. While more than a dozen privately owned newspapers operate, most are owned by individuals with connections to the government or ruling party, and are distributed primarily in urban areas. The reach of many privately owned and controlled radio and television stations is also limited to the capital city, Luanda. Privately owned radio stations are not allowed to use repeaters to extend their broadcast signals outside their base province; rather, they are obliged to open a new station in every province in which they wish to broadcast. Therefore, the extent to which privately owned media penetrates the population outside Luanda is extremely limited. Denial of state and private advertising as a method of pressuring independent news outlets continues to be an issue, and in recent years has led to the forcible sale of a weekly newspaper. Authorities and private owners occasionally seize and destroy print runs of newspapers that carry stories critical of the government. In June 2010, after a local company with an undisclosed ownership structure bought three influential independent newspapers, coverage at the papers changed, with less reporting on corruption and other sensitive issues.
Unlike radio, television, and print media, the internet remains basically unregulated by the government and there are numerous sites that post material critical of dos Santos and his regime. However, internet penetration in Angola is extremely low—at 10 percent of the population—and the medium is generally only accessible to a small part of the population in Luanda.