Critical radio station closed in dispute over music royalties

New York, January 13, 2006—The Committee to Protect Journalists condemns the closure of Radio Mwangaza, a community station in the northern Congolese city of Kisangani, which has aired programs criticizing local authorities.

Court officials sealed its studios on January 11 in a dispute over alleged non-payment of music royalties, station director Jean-Pierre Lifoli told CPJ. Local press freedom groups said they believed the station, which was set up with French and Canadian support, has been targeted for its critical programming.

“It is outrageous that Radio Mwangaza has been silenced arbitrarily, depriving local people of vital programming,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper. “Authorities must allow it to resume broadcasting immediately.”

The station had broadcast debates on politics, civic education, and human rights ahead of presidential and parliamentary elections scheduled for the first half of this year. It also recently aired critical coverage of a pay strike by teachers and nurses in Kisangani.

Lifoli said that community radio stations were embroiled in a longstanding dispute with the National Society of Editors, Composers, and Authors – known by its French acronym SONECA – over royalties but only Radio Mwangaza had been targeted for closure. He said the station had been closed at the instigation of the local SONECA director.

Community radio stations have long complained that they are vulnerable to harassment and closure over official demands for crippling fees and taxes. The closure of Radio Mwangaza has drawn protests from Congolese press freedom organization Journaliste en Danger (JED) and the national association of community radio stations, ARCO.