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New Angolan media law to enhance press freedom

afrol News, 13 June - The new media law in Angola is to open up for private broadcasting, according to the government. The decision is welcomed by regional press freedom groups, which however want to see results. Press freedom remains strongly restricted in Angola.

In an interview broadcast on the national radio station 'RNA' on Tuesday, Angola's Minister of Social Communication, Hendrick Vaal Neto, announced that Angolans will soon see the emergence of privately owned television stations and short wave radio stations.

According to the Minister, the Press Bill, which is now being prepared by a presidential commission, will provide for the possibility of private broadcasting. The media legislation now in force stipulates that radio and television broadcasting is the domain of the state. The only TV channel in Angola is state-owned.

- This statement sounds fine and well, says Anacleta Perreira, lawyer and executive member of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA), "and private broadcasting would be good for the diversity in journalism in Angola."

- But we have yet to see the contents of the bill, says Ms Perreira. "As far as I am concerned, nothing new has happened. It was just a statement", she says and notes that the Ministry of Social Communication has given no indications as to when the final draft of the Press Bill will be made available to the public.

The new Press Bill will replace the Press Law of 15 June 1991 (law number 22/91) and has been underway since 1999, when the Minister of Social Communications announced a review of the Press Law.

In 2001 the first draft received much criticism for including a clause that allows prison terms for discrediting the President and other officials, as well as a clause that prevents a defendant from presenting evidence to support his case in court.

Deputy Communications Minister Manuel Augusto only last year had spoken out against private broadcasting. He claimed opening broadcasting up to the private sector would need a constitutional amendment.

Mr Augusto added he ruled out any possibility of having more than one news agency in Angola, as most countries had only one agency, owned by the state. Angola's only news agency is ANGOP, which is publicly funded.

The press freedom situation in Angola has so far only improved slowly since peace returned to the country in April last year. "While the privately-owned news media have gradually been winning more freedom, the same cannot be said for the state-owned news media which continued to be dominated by the government's propaganda," notes the Paris-based group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF).

The government however wishes to claim improvements in the media situation. President Eduardo dos Santos opened a training centre for journalists in September last year. Going back over the obstacles to freedom of expression in recent years, he stressed that no journalist is jailed in Angola. He voiced a desire for a professionalisation of the print media, especially the low-circulation ones.

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