- The government of Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has decreed the banning of 38 broadcasters over alleged regulatory noncompliance.
Officials of the Information Ministry accused the 22 private television channels and 16 radio stations of operating without official authorisation or document and also in default of required fees or taxes.
Congolese authorities said the ban is “indefinite”, although they refused to allow several stations to operate despite paying their duties or submitting required documents.
Aggrieved Congolese journalists grilled the government for the impromptu decision. But the Chief of Staff at the Information Ministry, Faustin Fwafa, said the government’s intention to audit media outlets was announced since March.
"We remind the government that the closing of radio and television stations without due process amounts to censorship," CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon said. "We call on the government to adhere to due process as guaranteed under the country's constitution."
DRC has been named by CPJ as one of the world’s worst backsliders of press freedom this year.
Congolese journalists described the audit ruling as an attempt to elbow out private broadcasters sympathetic to the opposition from getting their share of the state subsidy funds [US $2 million] earmarked for the public and private media houses.
So far, the audit has affected commercial broadcasters in the capital Kinshasa, but it is expected to silence many commercial radio and television stations in the provinces for not paying regulatory and broadcasting fees of US $5,000.
Media rights watchdogs have also got an axe to grind with Congo’s Minister for Higher Education, Sylvain Ngabu, for ordering the police to manhandle the news director and cameraman of a private broadcaster, Horizon 33. He had earlier invited Heustache Namunanika and Didier Lofumbwa in his office before he beating, the Kinshasa-based Journaliste en Danger reported.
This resulted after Horizon 33 criticised Ngabu for suspending a local university chancellor, Dieudonné Kalindye on 19 October.
Namunika had escaped the beating, but had his clothes torn in the melee. His cameraman Lofumbwa got the shock of his life when five armed officers assaulted him from behind with rifle butts as he prepared to set his camera to film Ngabu. He was dragged out of the office and beaten mercilessly.
The cameraman was later treated for bruises and chest pains.
The journalists refused to allow the matter to lay idle - their defense lawyer Jean-Pierre Ngunda filed a complaint against the minister and the armed officers for unlawful confinement, assault and battery.
"We are outraged that a government minister would lure two journalists tohis office with the bait of an interview and then order police to beat them and drag them outside," said Simon, saying it is “inconceivable” that a democratically elected President like Joseph Kabila [who meets with President Bush in White House] could sanction such a behavior by one his ministers.
“We hope that President Kabila will ensure that all those responsible for this brutal attack on Heustache Namunanika and Didier Lofumbwa are brought to justice swiftly."
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