It was a turbulent year. The political and economic chaos had a considerable impact on the country’s already ailing news media. A coup in the autumn of 2003 put an end to the deposed government’s increasingly repressive measures against journalists.
Paradoxically, it was a coup that lead to an increase in freedom for the press in Guinea-Bissau. A group of military officers led by Gen. Verissimo Seabra Correia took power in a bloodless coup on 14 September 2003. President Kumba Yala was ousted but was allowed to stay in the country.
With the support of his ministers and the state prosecutor, the deposed president had restricted press freedom more and more since the start of the year. Several journalists were detained or threatened and censorship was used. In March, the United Nations called for improved respect for human rights, especially free expression.
The privately-owned press remained weak. Advertising revenue was extremely limited and the readership not enough to assure real economic independence. The state-owned press was no better off. Employees of the state radio and television staged strikes to demand several months of salary arrears and better conditions. Some of them achieved their demands during the summer.
The Portuguese state radio and TV broadcaster, RTP, which has offices in each of Portugal’s former African colonies, was allowed to resume operations in Guinea-Bissau in August. It had been suspended in November 2002 for giving a "bad image of the country and government."
Four journalists detained
Sintcham Hocko FM, a community radio station in the eastern town of Gabu, was broadcasting an opposition meeting on 6 September 2003 when it received a note from the governor of Gabu banning coverage of opposition meetings on the grounds that it could "spark things off." Insisting that broadcasting stop immediately, plain-clothes police confiscated equipment and arrested station manager José Rodrigues Santy, director Samba Sow, head of programming Jorge Sambú and technician Sabino Quadé.
Police said they were also looking for two Gabu-based correspondents for national radio stations, Abdoulai Bobo Cissém of the state-owned Radio Nacional and Dicas Cassama of the privately-owned Bombolom FM, for covering the visit by two opposition parties to the region. Sintcham Hocko FM’s journalists were released the next day without being charged, and the station resumed broadcasting. The station announced its intention to bring a complaint against the governor for "abuse of authority." The governor claimed that he had acted on orders from a superior.
A journalist threatened
Braima Dabo, a reporter with radio Bombolom FM, received anonymous threatening calls on 11 September 2003 after presenting a news programme in which he reported that the leader of the opposition Union for Change had claimed that there were irregularities in the electoral lists being compiled.
Harassment and obstruction
Secretary of state for information João Manuel Gomes ordered the closure of privately-owned radio Bombolom FM on 13 February 2003 for "broadcasting false news liable to threaten national sovereignty and stability." This was a few days after Guinea-Bissau Human Rights League vice-president Joao Vaz Mané was arrested for criticising the president in an interview on Bombolom FM. Police paid a visit to Toni Goia, the journalist who conducted the interview, and asked him for a copy of the tape of the interview. Vaz Mané was held for three weeks without being charged. In response to a complaint brought by Bombolom FM against Gomes on 15 March, the national court of accounting ruled on 14 May that the station could reopen. It went back on the air the next day.
Ensa Seidi, the editor of the state-owned Radio Nacional, was ejected from the station’s studios on the orders of the secretary of state for information on 8 March for producing and broadcasting a report about the return to Guinea-Bissau of former prime minister Francisco Fadul, the leader of an opposition party. Fadul had announced his intention to be a candidate in the presidential elections that were supposed to follow legislative elections on 20 April. After being officially dismissed, Seidi was reinstated on 30 April at President Yala’s behest.
Allen Yero Embalo, the correspondent of Radio France Internationale (RFI), was threatened at his home by intruders on 14 March. His telephones were also tapped.