The Haute Autorite des Medias, a quasigovernmental organization mandated by the earlier transitional constitution, has the power to suspend broadcast stations for hate speech or calls for ethnic violence. In January a new regulatory law took effect, establishing the Conseil Superieur de l’Audiovisuel et de la Communication (CSAC), and in August the president appointed its 15 members, who assumed their posts in September. The CSAC is mandated to guarantee freedom and protection of the press as well as ensure equal access for political parties, associations, and citizens to official means of communication and information. Journalists in Danger (JED), a Kinshasa-based journalist advocacy group, accused the president of appointing nonqualified members to manipulate the CSAC.
In September, journalists and political parties signed a CSAC code of conduct prohibiting hate speech and ensuring open access to media during elections. In practice, however, CSAC lacked the capacity to monitor adequately all of the newspapers and television and radio stations operating across the country.
The CSAC required hour-long debate programs to be broadcast for each of the 11 presidential candidates, in which they or their chosen representative discussed their campaign with selected journalists. All 11 debates were broadcast on national media outlets and several private TV stations, some of which boasted a quasi-nationwide audience. In addition Radio Okapi, an independent radio station jointly founded by MONUSCO and the Fondation Hirondelle, with support from various international donors, devoted airtime to each presidential candidate, or their representative, to allow them to explain their political platforms to the public. These interviews aired nationwide during the electoral campaign and helped ensure equality of media exposure for all contenders. With the exception of national debates, media outlets failed to ensure a fair distribution of airtime among the various candidates. The EU election observer mission reported that President Kabila received 86 percent of televised airtime, versus 7 percent for Leon Kengo wa Dondo, 3 percent for Vital Kamerhe, and 1 percent for Etienne Tshisekedi, the leading opposition presidential candidate. JED found that, in its sampling, Kabila received 60 percent, Kamerhe 20 percent, and Tshisekedi 15 percent of televised airtime. JED expressed concern over the increasing partiality of media sources, who reported their own opinions rather than events on the ground.
A large and active private press (both pro and antigovernment) functioned throughout the country, and the government licensed a large number of daily newspapers. According to JED, 52 television stations, approximately 240 radio stations, and 200 newspapers were registered with the Ministry of Communication. The government required newspapers to pay a one-time license fee of 250,000 Congolese francs (approximately $278) and complete several administrative requirements before publishing. Many journalists lacked professional training, received little if any salary, and were vulnerable to manipulation by wealthy individuals, government officials, and politicians who provided cash or other benefits to encourage certain types of articles.
Radio remained the most important medium of public information due to limited literacy and the relatively high cost of newspapers and television. The state owned three radio stations and three television stations, and the president’s family owned two television stations.
In 2010 government authorities added a provision in journalists’ letters of accreditation that the military code of justice (concerning criminal penalties, including imprisonment) applied to any foreign journalists who committed press offenses. In response, international journalists expressed concerns over their ability to report on sensitive subjects such as the conflict in the East and corruption. At year’s end, there were no known cases in which this policy was implemented. Nevertheless, SSF harassed foreign journalists. For example, on December 23, a RG officer confiscated the working materials of Thomas Hubert of BBC Afrique when he was investigating Tshisekedi’s planned “inauguration” at Martyrs’ Stadium (see section 3). Many hours later, Hubert recovered all the materials except for his camera memory card.
According to JED, one journalist was killed during the year. On June 21, unidentified armed men killed Kambala Musonia, a journalist with Radio Communautaire de Lubero Sud (RCLS), near his home in Kirumba, North Kivu, after Musonia hosted a call-in program during which listeners blamed a surge of insecurity in the region on local SSF.
SSF also beat, arbitrarily arrested, harassed, and intimidated local journalists because of their reporting. In an open letter to the deputy prime minister and minister of the interior dated November 4, Reporters without Borders and JED alleged that freedom of the media was deteriorating, citing various cases as evidence. For example, a television cameraman was taken into custody by police after filming a Union pour la Democratie et le Progres Social (UDPS) demonstration on October 29. Police freed him two days later.
In its annual report on press freedom released on December 29, JED documented 28 cases of assault of journalists during the year, which represented a 400 percent increase compared with 2010. However, the number of jailings of journalists decreased from 17 in 2010 to nine during the year.
Overall JED reported an 84 percent increase in press freedom abuses, including one murder, and several assaults, arbitrary arrests and detentions, threats, restricted movements, and illegal sanctions or censorship, compared with 2010. Furthermore, JED noted a 28 percent increase in abuses in 2011 when compared with 2006, the last electoral year. The NGO underscored that journalists, reacting to threats of violence, censored themselves. JED further emphasized that economic and political pressure restricted press freedom and expressed concern about the continuing trend of politicians and government officials hiring journalists as advisors.
Radio journalists, particularly those in Bukavu, South Kivu, continued to fear for their safety. Journalists often received anonymous death threats from callers, and many journalists continued to be concerned by the lack of serious investigation and judicial action by authorities against the perpetrators responsible for multiple journalist killings since 2005.
In addition, there were several reports of media outlets being shut down during the election period. While CSAC was, in theory, the only institution with the authority to restrict broadcasts, the government often exercised this power. The media and communications ministry, for example, shut down the signal of pro-opposition Radio Tele Lisanga (RLTV) from November 6 to 15--before the elections--after it aired a live phone call from South Africa by Etienne Tshisekedi, in which the UDPS leader declared himself president of the republic and advocated violence against the police. DRC media minister Lambert Mende later called the suspension of RLTV “a protective measure” taken against a media organization that promoted hate speech. CSAC later followed up with an official suspension of the station’s broadcasting rights. While the sanction against RLTV expired on December 9, the station remained off the air at year’s end. In addition, the signal for Canal Futur, a TV station owned by unsuccessful presidential candidate and the head of the Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC) Vital Kamerhe, was suspended for 10 days on November 28, after the station allegedly defamed one of Kamerhe’s political adversaries. It remained off the air at year’s end. On December 21, the CSAC’s rapporteur stated that “other grievances” prevented either broadcasting signal from being relaunched. On December 31, authorities suspended Radio France Internationale’s broadcasts for airing Etienne Tshisekedi’s New Year’s national address alongside President Kabila’s address, and therefore, according to the Information Minister, supporting Tshisekedi’s “anticonstitutional comedy.”
During the year national and provincial governments continued to use criminal defamation and insult laws to intimidate and punish those critical of the government. For example, on April 12, Lambert Mbuyi of the radio-television station Debout Kasai airing in Mbuji-Mayi, Kasai Oriental Province, was questioned at ANR. ANR accused him of airing, the day before, a program considered defamatory toward provincial authorities.
On December 3, the government cut off the SMS function of cell phones in an effort to control information and limit demonstrations and violence in the aftermath of the national elections. Two associations of people with disabilities in South Kivu and Kinshasa protested this decision, stating that people with hearing and speech impairments used SMS as a primary means of communication, and without access to SMS their livelihoods were cut off and they were unable to receive alerts about potential violence. On December 28, the SMS function was restored.