In DRC, reporter suspended after airing dissident general’s interview

New York, May 15, 2007—The broadcast on public radio of an interview with dissident Congolese Gen. Laurent Nkunda led officials in the eastern border town of Goma to indefinitely suspend a reporter last week, according to the press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED) and local journalists. This month, CPJ named the DRC one of the world’s worst backsliders on press freedom.

Michel Mutabesha Bakuza, a reporter with public broadcaster Radiotélévision Nationale Congolaise (RTNC), was indefinitely suspended on May 8 for allegedly “breaching the station’s editorial policy” after he aired Nkunda’s interview “without prior consent from the station’s management,” RTNC Goma Director Gabriel Lukeka told CPJ. In the interview, Nkunda criticized the government over the pace of the integration of his troops into the Congolese armed forces, according to international news reports.

Lukeka denied the suspension was linked to the content of the interview and characterized the move as “purely administrative.” He threatened to extend the suspension to three months if the issue were more publicly discussed.

The state-funded RTNC is the sole public broadcaster in the DRC. A 1996 media law prohibits public broadcasters from “being monopolized in favor of an opinion or an interest group,” according to CPJ research.

“The suspension of Michel Mutabesha Bakuza contradicts authorities’ assertions that press freedom is respected, and it appears to contravene DRC’s own media law,” CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. “We call on RTNC to immediately lift this suspension.”

In March, the co-hosts of a morning RTNC news show in Butembo, 825 miles (1,330 km) north of Goma, were briefly detained and ordered to censor their reporting over a broadcast critical of the local mayor, according to CPJ research.