Reporters Without Borders voiced concern today about the fate of around 10 journalists and technicians working for three TV and radio stations owned by Sen. Jean-Pierre Bemba - Canal Kin Télévision (CKTV), Canal Congo Television (CCTV) and Radio Liberté Kinshasa (Ralik) - who had to go into hiding after the three stations were forced to close on 21 March.
“Whatever the grievances against Bemba, it is up to Prime Minister Antoine Gizenga to ensure that his government and the army respect the rule of law,” the press freedom organisation said. “It would incomprehensible if the new prime minister were to allow the security forces a free rein in such a sensitive matter as the closure of privately-owned news media and were to be unconcerned about the safety of journalists.”
The broadcast signals of the Bemba-owned stations were cut on 21 March after Bemba, a former vice-president who was beaten by Joseph Kabila in last year’s presidential election, claimed in a Lingala-language interview that the army high command embezzled 500 million Congolese francs from the military payroll each month.
Deadly clashes took place on the streets of Kinshasa during the next two days between government troops and members of Bemba’s own military force. Bemba has been refusing to allow his troops to join the regular army on the grounds that he does not have sufficient guarantees for his safety.
The studios of CKTV and CCTV were attacked and ransacked in the course of these clashes. So far, no eye-witness account has emerged by it seems probable that the attack was the work of troops as virtually no civilians were on the streets during the fighting.
During a meeting with the leadership of the Reporters Without Borders partner organisation, Journalist in Danger (JED), information minister Toussaint Tshilombo Send claimed that the Bemba-owned stations’ broadcasts were cut by the company that manages TV signals in Kinshasa because of unpaid debts. When contacted by JED, a representative of this company confirmed that CCTV was behind with payments but said there was “never any question of turning off its signal.”
Many of the Bemba-owned media’s employees have been in hiding since 21 March. Solange Kwale, a journalist with the Antenne A television station, Basile Olongo of Radio Lisanga Télévision (RLTV) and Abou Zanga of CCTV have been receiving death threats and have had to take special safety measures.