It was back to square one at the start of 2002. The privately-owned radio station Bombolom FM and the editor of the Correio de Bissau (the former Diario de Bissau) were still the leading targets of President Kumba Yala’s government. Any criticism of the president or his associates brought a heavy-handed response, especially from attorney general Caetano N’Tchama who has taken on the role of censor. He had already shut down several privately owned newspapers and personally threatened individual journalists in 2001. He again tried to bring the independent and opposition press into line in 2002.
Buffeted by the government’s offensives, the privately-owned press also suffered from a non-existent market. There were very few advertisers and newspaper sold poorly. With a high illiteracy rate and a very low purchasing power, the population turned to the more accessible radio stations.
The state-owned media continued to do their job of putting out government propaganda although, as they have done every year since resuming work at the end of the civil war in 1999, public radio and TV journalists went on strike to press for better work conditions and several months of unpaid salaries. The staff of the country’s only printing press also went on strike for three months, preventing the four daily newspapers from coming out. On 2 December, the French government granted 300,000 euros to the state-run TV station TVGB for restructuring, training and the purchase of equipment, under an accord that envisaged it partial privatisation.
Relations continued to be tense between Guinea-Bissau and Portugal, whose colony it was until 1974. Concerned to protect its image abroad, the government expelled the local bureau chief of the Portuguese state-owned broadcaster RTP and suspended its operations in Guinea-Bissau in December.
Two journalists arrested
João de Barros, editor of the privately-owned Correio de Bissau, was detained by security agents and taken to Bissau central prison on 17 June 2002. He announced a hunger strike the next day to draw attention to his arrest, which was for criticising President Yala in an interview for the privately-owned radio Bombolom FM. A speech by the president accusing Gambia of preparing a coup against him had been called "catastrophic" by De Barros, who said any attempt to bring down the government was more likely to be the result of its "wasting public funds" on "luxury cars" for its leaders instead combatting poverty. He was freed on 19 June after appearing before an investigating judge.
Nilson Mendonca, a journalist with the state-owned radio broadcaster RDN, was detained on 20 June because he reported on the air that President Yala was going to apologise to Gambia for publicly accusing the Gambian authorities of backing the coup conspiracies of his opponents in Guinea-Bissau. Mendonca was released the next day.
Pressure and obstruction
The director of the privately-owned radio station Bombolom FM was summoned to appear before attorney general Caetano N’Tchama on 4 February 2002 for interrogation about the status of his station. The director of a local developmental organisation was summoned at the same time for questioning about Voz de Quelele, a community radio station it sponsors.
At the end of March, the attorney general banned all the news media from publishing or broadcasting press releases issued by the Guinean League for Human Rights (LGDH) or covering its news conferences. He lifted the ban on 30 May.
President Yala meanwhile made a veiled threat against Bombolom FM after it interviewed Alexandre Djiba, former spokesperson of the Movement of Democratic Forces of Casamance (MFDC), shortly before his arrest. "We know that a local radio station gave him the opportunity to tell the story of his life, but we’ll get to the bottom it," the president said.
Carlos Vamain, a presenter on the privately-owned radio station Pidjiquiti, was summoned before the attorney general on 5 August about a comment on the air a week earlier that was deemed "defamatory" and an "incitement to racial hatred." He had criticised the concentration or power in the hands of members of the president’s ethnic group. The police had questioned Vamain a few weeks before that, fining him 3 million CFA francs (4,573 euros) and banning him from leaving the country. He sought refuge in UN offices in Bissau from 13 to 15 August.
The authorities announced on 1 December that the Portuguese state-owned radio and TV broadcaster, RTP, which has offices in each of Portugal’s former African colonies, was suspended from operating in Guinea-Bissau indefinitely because it had broadcast material likely to harm the country’s "good image" abroad and "incite anger" at home. RTP had carried a programme the previous day marking the second anniversary of the death of Gen. Ansumane Mané, the leader of the 1998 rebellion, who was killed after a coup attempt against President Yala in November 2000. Five days later, RTP’s bureau chief in Bissau, João Perreira Da Silva, was ordered to leave the country within 48 hours for alleged disrespect toward a government official. His departure was a government pre-condition for any talks about a resumption of RTP’s operations and broadcasting in Guinea-Bissau. RTP’s programming would have to reflect Guinean-Bissau’s reality "with dignity, impartiality and objectivity," the government said. The Portuguese foreign minister announced on 11 December that he would issue a protest about the bureau chief’s expulsion.