CPJ protests government restrictions on media content

New York, January 21, 2005—The Committee to Protect Journalists is troubled that the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has imposed restrictions on the content of private broadcasters. A memo issued by DRC Information Minister Henri Mova Sakanyi on January 18 states that “religious and thematic” broadcasters should refrain from airing all news and political programs and orders the suspension of all live phone-in programs.

The memo, obtained by CPJ, also stipulates that the president is “sacred” and warns that “any attack on him in the written press or audiovisual media will be sanctioned in accordance with the law.” Furthermore, “the broadcast of any program inciting hatred, violence, disorder or slander will also be sanctioned severely.”

“CPJ is outraged at this attempt to restrict the media,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “It is all the more important that the press be allowed to operate freely in the run-up to DRC’s first democratic elections in more than 40 years, due to take place this year.”

The memo was issued on the same day that officials cut transmissions of two private television stations and a radio station owned by Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba—Canal Kin TV (CKTV), Canal Congo TV (CCTV), and Radio Liberté Kinshasa (RALIK).

CKTV and RALIK Director Stéphane Kitutu said that just before the transmissions were cut, Information Minister Mova Sakanyi telephoned and ordered him to take off the air immediately a press conference by Joseph Olenghankoy, a former transport minister whom President Joseph Kabila had suspended because of corruption allegations. In his press conference, Olenghankoy harshly criticized Kabila, according to the local press freedom group Journaliste en danger (JED).

As the outlets went off the air, army soldiers were stationed outside the broadcasting center with orders to prevent “unauthorized access,” according to JED. Kitutu confirmed that transmissions were restored today, after he signed a letter promising to respect the law and media ethics.

These developments come amid heightened political tensions in the run-up to elections scheduled for June, which the government has said it might postpone. The possibility of a postponement sparked violent demonstrations in Kinshasa when it was announced earlier this month, and several people were killed.

Vice President Bemba’s MLC party has threatened to pull out of the transition government, accusing Kabila’s PPRD party of violating the country’s peace accords and interim constitution. Political parties have been trading insults through the media, according to JED.