Attacks on the Press 2003: Mozambique

The trial of six men accused of killing Mozambican journalist Carlos Cardoso in November 2000 ended on January 31. The defendants were sentenced to lengthy prison terms ranging from 23 to 28 years in jail for conspiring to kill Cardoso because of his aggressive coverage of a 1996 corruption scandal involving the state-controlled Commercial Bank of Mozambique. South African journalist Phillip van Niekerk represented CPJ at the verdict’s announcement.

The rare instance of a journalist’s murderers being brought to justice renewed the confidence of the Mozambican press corps. Since the end of a 16-year civil war in 1992, Mozambique’s media have flourished. Today, dozens of private publications frequently criticize both the ruling Mozambique Liberation Front (FRELIMO) and the main opposition party, Mozambique National Resistance (RENAMO), which comprises members of the former rebel movement. Private and community radio stations have also proliferated. Many air daily news programs, although most recycle their information from a variety of secondary sources, including the local print media. Journalists, who say that even state media outlets enjoy editorial freedom, praise state-run Radio Mozambique–the country’s only nationwide station–for its independent coverage.

However, the implications of Cardoso’s murder still weigh heavily on journalists in this southern African coastal state. Many told CPJ they believe that the masterminds behind the killing remain at large. During the trial, several of the defendants said that the president’s son Nymphine Chissano ordered the murder. In January, law enforcement officials announced that they were launching a separate investigation into Nymphine’s role in the Cardoso case, although no developments had been announced by year’s end.

Local journalists told CPJ that while reporters are not afraid to criticize government or ruling-party policies, most avoid the type of investigative reporting that Cardoso pursued and don’t write about political corruption or organized crime. While the government has said publicly that protecting journalists is a priority, press freedom organizations such as the local chapter of the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) say that authorities should move beyond public statements to create a truly safe environment for the press.

Reporters who do write about corruption often encounter harassment. Journalists complain of frequent calls from ruling-party officials who pressure editors to reinforce Mozambique’s international image as a place of stability and economic growth. Furthermore, journalists say that anonymous threats, while rarely carried out, are common against those who report on corruption. In March, Rui de Carvalho, a journalist with the independent weekly Mediafax, received threatening phone calls after he reported on illegal land deals that implicated FRELIMO leaders.

While usually supportive of media freedom, President Joaquim Chissano publicly warned the local press against “sensationalism” in March at a ceremony inaugurating new members of Mozambique’s Supreme Mass Media Council, a watchdog body established under the constitution and Press Law. At the ceremony, the council’s chairperson, Julieta Langa, said Mozambique’s press “embraces speculation [and] does not practice constructive journalism,” according to the state news agency, AIM. In April, several Supreme Court justices made similar accusations and warned journalists they would take “legal action” against reporters who defamed the court in their articles. That same month, Supreme Court Chief Justice Mario Mangaze filed a criminal defamation case against the private weekly Zambeze after the paper published an article accusing him of corruption. The case was pending at year’s end. Mangaze also threatened to sue Mediafax in response to similar allegations.

While local journalists condemned the president’s remarks, several also criticized Zambeze for poorly researched articles. Zambeze had earlier drawn criticism when it ran the reportedly leaked verdict and sentences in the Cardoso case the day before the verdict was announced. The real sentences varied by a few years from those in Zambeze‘s story.

Attacks on journalists remain rare, but the local media reported several cases of harassment in the run-up to municipal elections in October and November, when tensions between FRELIMO and RENAMO made it difficult for journalists to do their jobs. In November, FRELIMO supporters harassed a Mediafax correspondent, tore up his notebook, and accused the publication of supporting RENAMO. In November, a stringer working for state-run Radio Mozambique in the north was kidnapped and detained for several hours by RENAMO supporters who said his coverage was biased in favor of the ruling party.

A draft freedom of information bill, written by consultants to MISA-Mozambique and designed to provide journalists with greater access to government information, was still being finalized at year’s end with input from local journalists’ associations. MISA hopes Parliament will introduce the bill in early 2004.