31 August 2011

Media says no to abuse by politicians

D.R.C. President Joseph Kabila, above, has supporters who have been physically and verbally abusing journalists ahead of November's elections
D.R.C. President Joseph Kabila, above, has supporters who have been physically and verbally abusing journalists ahead of November's elections
Journalists' organisations and media executives in the Democratic Republic of Congo have imposed a six-month embargo on media coverage of a member of parliament for his violent behaviour against the media. It's just one tactic in their campaign against the "noticeable rise" in attacks against journalists ahead of the November elections, say Journaliste en danger (JED) and other IFEX members.

Earlier this month, Yves Kisombe, a member of the ruling People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy (PPRD), used extremely violent language to insult and threaten Eugénie Ntumba, the editor-in-chief of the television station RTVS1, during an interview. In response, media groups announced the six-month embargo on media coverage of Kisombe's activities and the creation of a support network for Ntumba.

An estimated 200 Congolese journalists led by JED marched to the National Assembly in Kinshasa on 26 August to demand Kisombe's resignation, as well as show their outrage over similar reports of supporters of President Joseph Kabila physically and verbally abusing members of the press.

Following the march, CPJ reports that a delegation of journalists led by Polydor Muboyayi, head of the self-regulatory group Observatory of Congolese Media, met with National Assembly speaker Evariste Boshab. "We don't understand how those who hold seats in parliament, who have debated gender [issues], could utter such terms," Muboyayi reportedly told Boshab.

Muboyayi also urged authorities to ensure the safety of journalists before and after November's presidential elections, noting that several journalists' murders have gone unsolved since 2005. "During this delicate period, we do not want journalists to be the grass stomped by fighting elephants," he said.

Responding to the marchers, Boshab said he had not listened to recordings of the Ntumba interview but had referred the matter to the public prosecutor. Marchers walked out on him when he urged the news media to report impartially to guarantee their safety.

Boshab's own credibility on press freedom issues suffered a recent blow. Just a week prior to the march, Boshab's security guards attacked cameraman Serge Kembila of Radio Télévision Groupe l'Avenir (RTGA) for filming empty seats during a ruling party congress at a Kinshasa stadium, reports JED. Kembila told JED that security guards pounced on him and confiscated his footage.

Ironically, says CPJ, Kembila's station openly supports President Kabila, and Ntumba's station is owned by the President's appointed Prime Minister, Adolphe Kizito. A 2 August editorial in "L'Avenir", the sister newspaper to RTGA, explained, "During this period, media is in high demand. But it is also the scapegoat of politicians."

RSF has also uncovered a plot to allegedly kill Kizito Mushizi, a high-profile journalist who is now the provincial press spokesperson for the opposition Union for the Congolese Nation (UNC). The alleged plot is said to be motivated by fear that Mushizi could mobilise public support for UNC.

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