Freedom of the Press
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Congo, Republic of (Brazzaville)
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
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Freedom of the press is recognized by the Republic of Congo’s 2002 constitution and its laws, but is restricted in practice. A 2001 law made Congo Republic one of the first African countries to decriminalize libel. However, certain types of speech, such as inciting violence or ethnic hatred, are criminalized and carry the potential for prison sentences as well as monetary penalties. Such charges are rarely brought against individual journalists, and no cases were reported in 2014.
Although the constitution guarantees access to information, there is no implementing legislation, nor is there a specific law mandating public access to official information. Government officials often delay releasing information.
Media outlets are required to register with the High Council on Freedom of Communication (CSLC), whose 11 members are chosen by representatives of Parliament, the Supreme Court, and the executive branch; the president selects the director. In practice, only a small percentage of print and broadcast outlets are formally registered, though the vast majority operate unhindered. The government retains the right to revoke the accreditation of journalists at government and foreign-owned media outlets if their reporting reflects badly on the image of the government, ruling party, or its leaders.
The CSLC may suspend or ban media outlets that allegedly violate media regulations. Since the 2012 appointment of its new head, former minister of energy Philippe Mwouo, such orders have increased in number. In February 2014, the body issued a four-month suspension to the newspaper Talassa for refusing to answer a CSLC summons. Talassa had faced a similar suspension in 2013. In November 2013, the CSLC suspended three independent weeklies for nine months each for defamation, and in December of that year, it banned three other privately owned newspapers—La Griffe, Le Nouveau Regard and La Vérité—for an indefinite period for violations including defamation and manipulating public opinion.
The potential for legal action and the revocation of credentials leads many journalists, particularly at state-run outlets, to practice self-censorship.
Reporters occasionally face intimidation and threats, but physical attacks against journalists are unusual. In September 2014, the Interior Ministry expelled two reporters from the country. In early September, Elie Smith of Cameroon, a reporter for progovernment broadcaster MNTV, was attacked in his home for his coverage of an opposition meeting. After pressing the police to more thoroughly investigate the incident, he was accused of seditious acts and working for foreign powers, and was deported in late September. Also that month, freelance journalist Sadio Kante Morel, born in Brazzaville to foreign parents, was accused of illegal residence, drug consumption, and disturbing the peace. She was the first journalist to cover the attack on Smith and reportedly angered authorities with her criticisms of the investigation, leading to her expulsion to Mali.
There is one government-run newspaper, La Nouvelle République, which has a circulation of about 5,000 and publishes irregularly. The privately owned Dépêches de Brazzaville, the only professionally produced daily paper, is known to be close to the government. There are more than 100 private print publications, but their circulations are generally quite low and they are not distributed widely beyond the main cities. Most are supportive of the government, but a few can be critical of the authorities up to a point, and on occasion publish letters from opposition leaders and cover corruption allegations. Costs for print publications are high, particularly for paper purchased from abroad.
Most Congolese get their news from television and radio. There are some 95 radio stations in Congo, and about two dozen television stations; of these, only the state-run Tele-Congo and Radio Congo have nationwide reach. Almost all broadcast outlets are privately owned, though often by government officials and their relatives, and they usually lack financial stability. The main private broadcast company, DRTV, was founded after the government opened up the media to more competition in 2001, and currently owns a radio station and two television stations. Rebroadcasts from the British Broadcasting Corporation, Radio France Internationale, and Voice of America are also available.
There are no controls on the internet and satellite television, but only about 7 percent of the population had access to the internet in 2014. Connectivity is expected to improve with the arrival of the submarine fiber-optic West Africa Cable System. Consumption of internet-based news and use of social media is increasing, particularly among the youth and in urban areas.