• Legislation criminalizes coverage that insults president, state institutions.
• Three top papers purchased by mysterious corporation. Coverage grows timid.
2: Journalists killed in 2010, one a Togolese sports reporter, killed in soccer team ambush.
President José Eduardo dos Santos led one of the world’s fastest-growing economies, but he faced criticism over social inequalities, corruption, and press freedom violations. Capitalizing on booming oil production and diamond mining, his government invested a reported US$1 billion to host the 2010 Africa Cup of Nations in January. But the soccer tournament, which the government saw as an opportunity to enhance its international image, was marred when separatist guerrillas ambushed the Togolese national team, killing two people, including a journalist, and exposing the precarious security situation in the restive enclave of Cabinda. Dos Santos, in power since 1979, and his ruling Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola (MPLA) sought to tamp down on independent reporting of the ambush. By mid-year, a corporate entity whose principals were not disclosed had purchased three of the country’s leading independent newspapers and toned down their coverage.
THE PRESS: 2010
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Insecurity in Cabinda, a sliver of land separated from Angola by the neighboring Democratic Republic of Congo, made worldwide headlines on January 8 when gunmen attacked a convoy of vehicles carrying Togo’s soccer team. Stanislas Ocloo, 35, a sportscaster with the Togolese national broadcaster TVT, and assistant coach Hamelet Abulo were killed. The Front for the Liberation of the Enclave of Cabinda claimed responsibility for the attack, according to news reports. Writing on the CPJ Blog in June, award-winning Angolan journalist Rafael Marques de Morais said the government pressured Catholic-run Radio Ecclésia and state media not to use their reporters’ firsthand accounts of the attack. Without that reporting, which would have shed light on possible security failures, authorities were able to shift and avoid responsibility, he said. “The censorship compounded with the dearth of knowledge among international media allowed the government to rewrite the narrative unchallenged. Authorities sought to garner international sympathy on antiterrorism grounds, then pass blame onto the Togolese team itself,” Marques wrote. The team was unjustly blamed for not notifying authorities of its itinerary, an assertion that the facts on the ground could have debunked, he said.
Following the attack, the government arrested nine people, including local community leaders, and charged them with endangering national security, according to news reports. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International called the charges politically motivated and accused the government of coercing confessions. António Bento Bembe, the government’s secretary for human rights, denied the assertions. José Manuel Gimbi, a local correspondent for the U.S. government-funded Voice of America, reported receiving death threats in relation to his reporting on the attack and its aftermath. Gimbi was known for having extensive sources within both security forces and separatists.
With public attention devoted to the Cabinda shooting and the Africa Cup of Nations, the MPLA-controlled National Assembly approved a new constitution that strengthened the ruling party’s grip on power. The document, approved in January and ratified by the Supreme Court, established a new political system in which the head of the party winning a parliamentary majority automatically becomes president, according to news reports. The opposition National Union for the Total Independence of Angola (UNITA) boycotted the vote, saying the electoral plan undermined democracy. The constitution, which replaced a transition document, is the first since a 2002 peace agreement ended 27 years of civil war.
A handful of independently owned news outlets, including Marques’ website, MakaAngola, scrutinized public corruption, drawing rebukes from the government. When Marques issued a critical report in September that called the president’s office “the epicenter of corruption,” the MPLA dismissed the findings as a smear campaign sponsored by unnamed foreign interests to “tarnish everything the executive power does” ahead of parliamentary elections scheduled for 2012. Press scrutiny paralleled a U.S. Senate investigation, completed in February, which detailed how transfers of millions of dollars from Angolan officials to U.S. financial institutions did not meet monetary transfer regulations, according to news reports. Angola has steadily slid down Transparency International’s Global Corruption Perception Index, an annual survey measuring corruption levels in 178 countries, dropping to 168th place in 2010.
A state security bill passed by parliament in November offered government officials a new shield against public scrutiny. The measure includes a provision barring “words, images, writings, or sound” that insult the president, the state, or official institutions, according to news reports. The legislation, which took effect in late year, imposes prison penalties of up to two years for violations.
In June, a new and previously unknown local company called Media Investments S.A. purchased in one swoop three leading independent newspapers, all of which had actively reported on government corruption. The company, which did not disclose its principals, acquired Semanário Angolense, A Capital, and a 40 percent stake of Novo Jornal, according to Reuters. The company did not comment on its ownership.
Veteran journalist Reginaldo Silva, an independent member of the MPLA-dominated media regulator, the National Council of Social Communication, told CPJ that nondisclosure of shareholder information violated government regulations. “The law says that when you buy a newspaper or a radio station, you must provide to the council the names of your shareholders, even if you have a front company or an anonymous enterprise. But the law is silent on sanctions, so we have no power to enforce it,” he said.
With its purchases, Media Investments S.A. became Angola’s third-largest media company, Reuters reported. Journalists speculated that the new ownership was allied with the ruling party, pointing to the publications’ newly timid coverage. They also pointed to an August episode in which an edition of A Capital never hit the newsstands; the company called it a “technical” problem, but local sources said management had objected to a story critical of a presidential speech on housing. The company did not comment on the speculation.
Semanário Angolense, founded in 2003, was the country’s largest circulation newspaper and one of its most critical, according to CPJ research. Editor Felisberto da Grâça Campos, who had been imprisoned in the past for his critical reporting, told CPJ that the newspaper had faced financial pressures because the government had begun withholding state advertising and pressuring private businesses not to advertise there. He noted that government advertising had returned to the paper since the sale.
Journalists were targeted in a series of attacks in September and October, all of which went unpunished. On September 5, gunmen killed Alberto Graves Chakussanga, 32, presenter of a weekly news and call-in program on Radio Despertar, a station aligned with the opposition UNITA party. He was found with a bullet in his back in his home in Luanda’s Viana district, with only a bottle of cooking gas reported missing. Chakussanga’s program was conducted in Umbundu, the language of the Ovimbundu, Angola’s largest ethnic group, according to local journalists. No arrests were reported by late year.
On September 22, gunmen fired on TV Zimbo reporter Norberto Abias Sateko as he was walking home in Luanda’s Prenda township, according to local journalists. Sateko, who had reported critically on the demolition of houses in the southwestern province of Huíla, suffered a leg injury, according to local journalists. No arrests were made by late year. The next month, an unidentified assailant stabbed popular Radio Despertar commentator and satirist António Manuel Manuel Da Silva, known on the air as “Jójó,” as he was walking home in Luanda. The journalist, who had received prior death threats, had criticized the president for not addressing corruption and criminality in a speech to parliament, according to local journalists. Da Silva survived his injuries, but no arrests had been made by late year.
Outside Luanda, independently owned outlets were rare and journalists operated at the mercy of local police and officials who often abused their authority to suppress critical coverage. In September, police in the southwestern province of Huíla prevented three Luanda-based independent journalists from taking photographs of the local government’s controversial demolition of thousands of homes and the displacement of residents in the provincial capital, Lubango, according to local journalists and news reports. In a story in O País, reporter Eugénio Mateus described the scene: “The victims asked the photographers to take pictures of the destruction of their homes for the world to see their plight, while a plainclothed officer and one wearing a uniform and armed tightened their surveillance by following journalists step by step.” In the process, officers damaged the camera of O País photojournalist Nuno Santos. Provincial officials said flooding had put the occupants at risk, but residents claimed they were uprooted without compensation or adequate relocation.
In e-mail exchanges with CPJ, international journalists described confusing and lengthy bureaucratic processes to obtain visas, accreditation, or permits for reporting. “The whole issue of accreditation, press cards, rules for journalists is a massive hurdle to working in Angola,” said a foreign media correspondent, who, fearing reprisal, spoke on condition of anonymity. “Getting accreditation for events locally can also be very complicated and bureaucratic, and in some instances I think it is made difficult intentionally,” the reporter added. Journalists pointed to particular problems getting access to sensitive regions such as Cabinda and the northeastern diamond-rich region of Lunda Norte. Even when the central government granted permission, journalists said, local police often stopped, harassed, and demanded bribes from journalists.