Area: 2,344,860 sq.km.
Head of state: President Joseph Kabila
Buffeted by the different factions sharing power, prickly businessmen and armed militia, Congolese journalists have to confront many challenges. Despite the hopes raised by the 2003 democratic transition accord, the Democratic Republic of Congo continues to be one of those African countries where exercising the right to information can lead to prison, hospital and sometimes the cemetery.
The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is vast. So are the problems its journalists face. The arrests, threats and violence did not stop in 2004. The many news media were caught in a vice between the different factions, the many parties and the various influence networks jostling for power. The violence and climate of insecurity that has prevailed for many years in the provinces, especially in the north and east, makes it especially difficult for journalists to work there. In May and June in Bukavu, journalists found themselves both hunted by mutineers from the regular army and, like all civilians in this troubled area, caught in the crossfire of fighting. Press freedom continued to decline at the end of the year as fighting resumed on the Rwandan border.
A large number of newspapers are published on an irregular basis in the capital, Kinshasa, amid incessant power struggles and in a political situation that is certainly pluralist but also unstable. Dry dailies and home-made "rags," religious publications and newspapers owned by politicians, satirical magazines and tabloids - a full range of print media is available in the news stands. As well as the seven privately-owned dailies that are published in the capital, more that 20 other newspapers struggle in their different ways to report on political and social issues in this country headed by President Joseph Kabila.
After many civil wars fuelled by regional powers from 1996 to 2003, the DRC entered a period of democratic transition. The factions that used to be at war today share power, awaiting general elections that are supposed to take place in June 2005. The print media have been drawn into a political whirlwind in which a former militia chief is pitted against a minister from a rival faction one day, and a vice-president is pitted against a businessman with conflicting interests the next.
What’s more, the business and social life of this still poor country is marred by corruption and nepotism. Scandals abound. Kinshasa’s journalists have not hesitated to dissect the many cases of corruption despite exposing themselves to the wrath of a judicial system often more than ready to defend the honour of the powerful. Many journalists were arrested on defamation charges in 2004. Journalist in Danger (JED), a local NGO, says the truth or falseness of a journalist’s allegations has no bearing under Congolese law in defamation actions. The courts do not try to establish whether what the journalist said is correct or not, they simply decide whether it "damaged a person’s honour or respect." This lends itself to all kinds of abuses.
Newspaper editor Nicaise Kibel Bel Oka, for example, was sentenced by a low-level court in Béni, in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu, to six months in prison and 5,500 euros in damages on 19 June, hours after being arrested by military intelligence agents sent by the local prosecutor. He was convicted of libelling powerful local businessman Jacques Kyangu in a November 2003 article in his weekly, Les Coulisses, which accused Kyangu of customs fraud and described an incident in which a truck containing goods imported from Uganda disappeared between the Ugandan and DRC customs posts. Oka was released on 12 July.
Simplice Kalunga wa Kalunga, the producer and presenter of the TV programme "Nouvelle Donne" on the privately-owned Kinshasa Channel Media Broadcasting (CMB), was arrested and interrogated at length on 19 August by the prosecutor’s office in the Kinshasa district of La Gombe about her programme 10 days before in which she, a leading lawyer and a protestant pastor, Théodore Ngoy, had criticised omissions in a draft nationality law before parliament.
Freddy Monsa Iyaka Duku, the managing editor of the daily Le Potentiel, was detained on 13 September because one of the country’s four vice-presidents, Arthur Z’Ahidi Ngoma, claimed he had been exposed to "public contempt" by a 23 August report about a real estate dispute between Ngoma and a textile factory owned by Belgian company. It described an incident on 19 August in which a shootout was narrowly between Ngoma’s bodyguards and a group of regular army soldiers protecting the factory. Duku was freed after being held for three days.
Threats and violence
Libel suits and death threats sometimes went together. José Wakadila of the independent daily La Référence Plus was summoned to appear before a court in Kasa-Vubu on 3 August on a charge of libelling the oil refining company SOCIR, whose general administrator is the brother of Vice-President Yerodia Abdoulaye Ndombasi. Prior to his appearance, he received anonymous telephone threats in which he was told he had "chosen the wrong target" because he had "hurt Vice-President Yerodia’s little brother," who is at the same time a member of President Kabila’s People’s Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD).
Reporters Without Borders registered 14 cases of confirmed threats against journalists in 2004. In one such case, Mice Katshaleji of the privately-owned RadioTélévision Kin Malebo (RTKM) was beaten up by five men after refusing to go on the air with information compromising a Kinshasa businessman that he had received from a business rival, Max Mayaka. The producer and presenter of the civic education programme "Télé Chat," Katshaleji had told Mayaka he would not talk about the case on his programme without talking to the other party. Congo Broadcasting Education System news director Alpha Atumesa received death threats in several anonymous phone calls on 24 August after that day’s TV news programme carried an interview by Atumesa with an expatriate businessman, Berge Nanikian, who is suing William Damseaux, the owner of the company Orgaman.
The DRC’s journalists held a national congress in March to discuss this situation and the fact that the country has too many news media - 213 (officially-registered) privately-owned newspapers, 122 privately-owned radio stations, 12 public radio stations, 52 privately-owned TV stations, 10 public TV stations etc. Leading journalists from Kinshasa and all 11 provinces took part. At the end of a week of work, they agreed to set up two important new organizations. One was the Congo Media Watchdog (OMEC), whose responsibilities were to include a self-regulatory role and "conciliation" between news media and persons who believe they have been libelled. The other was the Congo Press Union (UNPC), with a unifying role.
Anarchy in Bukavu
The armed clashes endlessly recurring on the eastern border with Rwanda gave rise to many press freedom violations, especially in May and June when an army mutiny led to widespread destruction and bloodshed in the Bukavu region. Many journalists went to the UN peacekeeping mission, MONUC, to get protection from the rebels, who claimed to be defending the Banyamulenge community and accused all the local news media of being "hate media."
The privately-owned religious radio station, Radio Maria, in Bukavu began receiving threatening anonymous calls on 29 May and was attacked on 2 June by rebel soldiers who ransacked part of its equipment.
Rebel soldiers burst into the home of Radio Rehema manager Joseph Nkinzo on 4 June and gunned down his younger brother in cold blood, mistaking him for Nkinzo. After receiving many telephone death threats, Radio Maendeleo manager Kizito Mushizi went into hiding for three weeks, without sending any word to his friends and family, even his wife. He was able to go back to work after the town returned to normality.
Déo Namujimbo, Kivu correspondent for the Syfia Grands Lacs news agency and Reporters Without Borders, was forced to go into hiding on 18 June and then into exile with his family because Laurent Nkunda’s rebel soldiers watched his home and office and questioned his neighbours following the publication of an article about the rebel reign of terror in Minorva, a locality near the eastern city of Goma. A resumption of hostilities in the region at the end of the year between combatants from Rwanda and the Congolese regular army suddenly created a climate of extreme tension in which journalists suffered. The Congolese authorities saw the press as an instrument of war and, for example, detained journalists who dared to go to Rwanda to get the viewpoint of Kigali officials. And needless to say, the armed Rwandans inside the DRC did not want journalists to report on their activities and thereby undermine the secrecy surrounding their presence.
Reporters Without Borders and its partner organization, JED, were also worried about the xenophobic or bellicose views being expressed in some Congolese media. On 14 May, the two organizations asked the acting general administrator of the public broadcaster RadioTélévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC) to intervene in the case of the "Media Forum" programme presented by Noël Kalonda, which is broadcast on Sunday evenings (and repeated on Monday evenings) on Channel Two. On more than one occasion Reporters Without Borders and JED observed guests - who were nearly always the same each week - making comments inciting ethnic hatred, violence of murder.
The "Media Forum" on 9 May was mainly about Rwandan President Paul Kagame’s threat on 1 May to send his troops into the DRC and a 4 May press conference by Vice-President Azarias Ruberwa - who heads the former rebel movement know as the Congolese Rally for Democracy (RCD/Goma) - about the situation on the country’s eastern border. Without disputing the importance of this debate for the democracy and peace process in the DRC, Reporters Without Borders and JED noted that all those who spoke on the programme fiercely attacked Rwanda and its RCD allies, accusing the latter of being traitors. One of the guests, whose surname was Kibinda, went so far as to say: "I have a 40-year-old Rwandan son and if he appeared before me to today, I would kill him."
6 journalists were in prison
32 were arrested
10 were convicted by a court
6 were physically attacked
14 were threatened
5 media premises were physically attacked
2 news media were censored
2 journalists were suspended
and one was unfairly dismissed