Reporters Without Borders today condemned information, press and communication minister Toussaint Tshilombo Send’s announcement of a ban on around 40 TV and radio stations five days ago. It has had the effect of silencing four community radio stations based in Kinshasa, while around 200 other community radio stations throughout the country are also threatened.
“We are not convinced by the government’s arguments for taking this abrupt decision,” the press freedom organisation said. “Poorly documented, politically suspect and hastily adopted, the minister’s decree is dangerous and unfair for the country’s community radio stations, which play an important role in informing the public in the provinces.”
Reporters Without Borders added: “Regulating the broadcast media is one thing, but it is absurd to make it impossible for these small radio stations to survive. The minister should understand that he could deprive the Democratic Republic of Congo of a precious asset for its development and for the success of the reforms that have been launched.”
Send said in a news conference in Kinshasa on 20 October that the score of TV and radio stations were being banned for not complying with regulations. “This measures aims to clean up the airwaves in Democratic Republic of Congo and leave them to the real professionals,” the minister was quoted as saying by radiookapi.net. The targeted media did not have proper licences, registration or proof of tax payments, he claimed.
Among the broadcast media whose transmissions were stopped after the announcement were CCTV and Canal Kin Television (which belong to opposition leader Jean-Pierre Bemba), Molière TV, Horizons 33, Mirador and Numerica TV, and four Kinshasa-based community radio stations - Radio Elykia, Radio Lisanga, Réveil FM and Ralik (which also belongs to Bemba).
Since then, some of these stations have produced evidence that they were complying with the law, in particular, by negotiating a payments timetable with the General Directorate for Administrative and State Revenue Collection (DGRD). As a result, they were able to resume broadcasting yesterday.
But a legal vacuum surrounds the status of the community radio stations which, despite receiving no help from the state, have played a key role in informing the public about the transition process and the various elections that have been held in recent years.
In a statement issued yesterday, the Congo Federation of Community Radio Stations (FRPC) said the ministry demanded 5,000 dollars for a registration receipt and another 2,500 dollars for an operating licence, sums that far beyond the reach of community radio stations operating in remote parts of the country.
The federation also correctly pointed out that their status was not defined by the broadcast media law of June 1996, which referred only to “radio and TV broadcasting, both public and private of a commercial nature” and ignored community radio stations. The federation therefore asked the ministry to suspend his decision pending the adoption of a law currently being drafted that would regulate community radios.
A workshop on reforming the community radio sector was held early this year in Kinshasa under the aegis of Senda’s ministry. Proposals were made during the workshop but until now there has been no legislative follow-up.