Equatorial Guinea bars reporter from press freedom debate

By Peter Nkanga/CPJ West Africa Consultant on May 7, 2012 2:56 PM ET

Equatorial Guinea President
Teodoro Obiang (Reuters/James Akena)

To commemorate World Press Freedom Day on May 3, CPJ published a list of the 10 most censored countries, citing Equatorial Guinea as the fifth worst offender. In response, the Minister of Information and government spokesperson, Jerónimo Osa Osa Ecoro, dismissed the analysis of the country's press situation as biased.

"We are going to communicate with those international media organizations who are out to destroy the image of the country," Ecoro told me last week. "They have a biased opinion of the situation in the country."

To mark World Press Freedom Day, the government called national and international journalists to a "relaxed" press conference where President Teodoro Obiang "answered all questions" and declared how he enjoyed watching two hours of debate between the French presidential candidates ahead of the election this past weekend, according to the government. "There are really no restrictions on any activity of the press, provided they are legal," the presidential press office quoted Obiang as saying.

Yet, at the same time, the director-general of Equatorial Guinea's state-owned Radio Television broadcaster RTVGE, Teobaldo Nchaso  Matomba, barred Samuel Obiang Mbana, an independent journalist (and no relation to the president), from participating in a televised debate to which he had been invited two days earlier to speak on how press freedom could transform the country. Mbana, an international correspondent for the German-government funded broadcaster Deutsche Welle, the Senegalese-based Apanews, and the pan-African radio station Africa N.1, had been invited by the debate's presenter, Pablo Obama Osa.  But on arrival at the debate location, Matomba prevented him from taking part.

"I was told I am problematic, that I might say something the station is censored not to say, and which the government doesn't want aired," Mbana told me.

Matomba did not respond to a text message seeking clarification on Mbana being too "problematic" to participate in the debate. Over the telephone, he told me he was too busy to respond to my queries. Minister of Information Ecoro, when contacted about the matter, said, "I am not aware of this. Call the director [Matomba]." He was however quick to proclaim the country is committed to the freedom of the press.

But CPJ research shows otherwise. On June 11, 2011, Matomba had state security agents arrest a television crew from ZDF, Germany's biggest public TV channel, which had been in the country to film stories about women's soccer and the general state of affairs in the country ahead of the FIFA 2011 Women's World Cup. Matomba ordered the destruction of their footage, including pictures of children playing football in the slums, on the premise that the footage portrayed the country negatively by showing poverty.

The only Spanish-speaking country in Africa has also censored coverage of political unrest around the world -- even suspending a state radio presenter for mentioning the Libyan revolution while live on air. And there are no signs of improvement in the future. Private newspapers have been run aground. There exists no opposing voice; the only private radio and television network, RTV-Asonga, belongs to the president's son, Teodorino Obiang Nguema - for whom France last month approved an international arrest warrant following criminal investigations into money laundering. But journalists do not dare speak of this inside Equatorial Guinea.

"True journalism doesn't exist any longer. It is just advertising, pure propaganda that goes on in the country. No journalist dares speak against the government," one journalist, not wanting to be mentioned for fear of reprisal, told me.


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