The constitution and law provide for freedom of expression, including for the press; however, state dominance of most media outlets, self-censorship by journalists, and the existence of a media regulatory body limited the practical application of these rights. Most private media organizations were located in the capital. On November 9, newly elected President Lourenco dismissed and replaced heads of all major state-owned media outlets. On November 14, the president urged the new leadership of state media entities to ensure an editorial line that serves the public interest and upholds freedom of expression and the press.
Freedom of Expression: Individuals reported practicing self-censorship but generally were able to criticize government policies without fear of direct reprisal. Social media was widely used in the larger cities and provided an open forum for discussion.
Press and Media Freedom: Private radio and print media criticized the government openly and harshly. Authorities occasionally threatened journalists and publishers with harassment and arrest for covering sensitive stories. Journalists routinely complained of lack of transparency and communication from government press offices and other government officials. State dominance of major media outlets often led to one-sided reporting, with opposition and civil society figures frequently expressing their opinions in privately owned media outlets while government officials kept silent even on noncontroversial issues.
Official news outlets, including Angolan Public Television, Radio Nacional, and the Jornal de Angola newspaper, favored the ruling party and gave only limited coverage to opposition political parties. Official news outlets disproportionately covered ruling party candidates and campaign events in the period preceding the August 23 presidential and parliamentary elections, but at times included opposition party members and other commentators in nationally televised debates on issues such as elections, the rule of law, and the economy. Opposition parties received only limited coverage of their legislative participation in the National Assembly.
Violence and Harassment: Several journalists reported incidents of violence or harassment during the year. For example, a stringer for a foreign broadcaster investigating a series of mysterious fainting spells in Uige Province schools reported that police detained and beat him for photographing the transport of student victims to a hospital.
Censorship or Content Restrictions: In January the National Assembly passed a package of five regulatory media laws, one of which established the Regulatory Entity for Social Communication (ERCA), a body empowered to license and delicense journalists and determine what constitutes appropriate media content. At year’s end ERCA remained largely inactive.
Journalists practiced self-censorship.
The minister of social communication, spokesperson of the presidency, and national director of information maintained significant decision-making authority over the media. It was commonly understood these individuals actively vetted news stories in the state-controlled print, television, and radio media and exercised considerable authority over some privately owned outlets. State-controlled media and private media outlets owned by those close to the government rarely published or broadcast stories critical of the ruling party, government officials, or government policies.
In March Angolan telecommunications operator ZAP, owned by Isabel dos Santos, the daughter of then president Jose Eduardo do Santos, stopped broadcasting two Portuguese-owned television channels, SIC Noticias and SIC Internacional. ZAP notified neither the channels’ owners nor ZAP subscribers in advance. Several journalists, such as Expresso newspaper correspondent in Luanda Gustavo Costa and the president of the Media Institute for Southern Africa-Angola, Alexandre Solombe, alleged that ZAP’s decision to cease broadcasting the two channels was in response to their critical reporting on corruption and poverty in the country.
Libel/Slander Laws: Defamation is a crime punishable by imprisonment or a fine, and unlike in most cases in which defendants are presumed innocent until proven guilty, defendants in defamation cases have the burden of proving their innocence by providing evidence of the validity of the allegedly damaging material.
Several journalists in print media, radio, and political blogs faced libel and defamation lawsuits. Journalists complained the government used libel laws to limit their ability to report on corruption and nepotistic practices. According to the PGR, some journalists abused their positions and published inaccurate stories about government officials without verifying the facts or providing the accused the right of reply. On June 21, Attorney General Joao Maria de Sousa indicted journalist and human rights activist Rafael Marques for slander in response to an October 2016 article published on Marques’ website, Maka Angola. The article accused de Sousa of corruption regarding an alleged illicit purchase of land and criticized then president dos Santos for failing to curb such alleged corrupt practices. Journalist and publisher Mariano Bras was also indicted for slander for republishing the article in the newspaper O Crime. Marques could face a penalty of up to three years’ imprisonment if convicted of slander, as well as the reinstatement of a six-month suspended sentence he received for a 2015 conviction of criminal libel. At year’s end the court had not ruled on the merits of the indictments against Marques or Bras, nor had it set a trial date.
The law allows ERCA to determine what constitutes appropriate media content, including online content. The government did not, however, restrict or disrupt access to the internet or censor online content, and there were no credible reports the government monitored private online communications without appropriate legal oversight. According to the International Telecommunication Union, in 2016 approximately 13 percent of residents had access to the internet.
Academic Freedom and Cultural Events
There were no government restrictions on academic freedom or cultural events.