Reporters Without Borders wrote yesterday to communication and media minister Lambert Mendé condemning the government’s decision to suspend local retransmission of the French public radio station Radio France Internationale (RFI) in the northeastern city of Bunia, and voicing concern at the possibility that the measure could be extended to the rest of the country.
“We easily understand that maintaining peace and security is a concern and a priority for the Congolese government but we think it is wrong and unfair to accuse RFI of helping to destabilise the country,” Reporters Without Borders said in its letter. “We urge you both to restore RFI’s broadcasts in Bunia and to confirm your personal commitment to press freedom by publicly stating that the international media presence in Democratic Republic of Congo is legitimate.”
The letter added: “You should be aware that a media presence in areas that are unstable or experiencing an armed conflict is necessary so that all the actors can have adequate access to news and information.”
Confirming on 5 May that RFI’s transmissions in Bunia, the capital of Ituri district (in Orientale province), had been cut for the past three days, Mendé accused the station of “pouring oil on the fire” especially in the east of the country.
The minister, who is also the government spokesman, said: “Basically, we accuse RFI of trying to provoke mutinies within the armed forces and to create inter-ethnic conflicts in areas where we are working hard to pacify the country. When you incite soldiers on pacification operations to mutiny, you are aiming to destroy the country and this has nothing to do with journalism. If it proves absolutely necessary to cut the transmission of certain media, we will do it.”
The RFI management in Paris denied that the station’s coverage of Democratic Republic of Congo was in any way biased. The Congolese government has for years been criticising RFI’s reporting and deported a visiting RFI reporter, Ghislaine Dupont , on 3 July 2006, when she was in Kinshasa to cover a presidential election.