10 August 2011

Despite democratic rise to power, president represses media freedom

Guinean President Condé censors media, ignoring his predecessor's progressive media laws
Guinean President Condé censors media, ignoring his predecessor's progressive media laws
STR New / Reuters

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Guinea's first democratically elected President survived an assassination attempt on 19 July after gunmen surrounded his home and pummeled it with heavy artillery. Three people were killed during two separate attacks. But President Alpha Condé immediately clamped down on any media coverage of the attack, a censorship that IFEX members report is emblematic of his contempt for the media, despite promises for positive change. During a May fact-finding mission to Guinea, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) found a thriving media landscape hindered by repressive media laws with journalists targeted by security forces and political interference.

According to the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), on 26 July, the National Communications Council (CNC), Guinea's media regulatory body, halted publication and broadcasting of news about the assassination attempt. The suspension covered political phone-in programmes on private radio and television stations, in French and all other local languages, where listeners asked critical questions about the attack. The ban was lifted on 28 July, reports the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

But the CNC has also been meddling in the media in recent months. In June, it imposed a two-month suspension on "Le Défi", a newspaper critical of Condé's government, report MFWA and RSF. The CNC often issues warnings to radio stations, according to the RSF mission report, which notes, "Some fear that the CNC wants to bring certain media into line."

One of the attacks in last month's coup attempt was led by a fighter loyal to the country's former military junta leader, Capt. Moussa "Dadis" Camara, who was deposed when he was shot by a bodyguard in December 2009 and left the country for medical treatment, according to news reports. In September 2009, Guinea made international headlines after Camara's men massacred over 150 pro-democracy protesters and hunted down journalists who reported on the bloodshed. Camara is now in exile in Burkina Fasso.

In a progressive turn, after Gen. Sékouba Konaté captured power in Guinea in December 2009, he passed new laws protecting media freedom. The laws, passed in June 2010, redefined the powers of me¬dia regulatory bodies and how their members are appointed, guarantee access to government-held information, and decriminalise media offences. After taking over the presidency, Konaté agreed to hold free and transparent elections in November 2010, in which he did not run as a candidate.

However, despite this democratic political transition, led by the National Transition Council (CNT), none of the media laws have been implemented since Condé became President. The RSF mission found "the blockage is due to a drafting error in one case, an adminis¬trative procedural error in another and, above all, to political and judicial resistance."

The country has more than 30 newspapers, as many privately owned radio stations, two privately owned television stations and many bloggers with more than 50 websites. Radio has benefitted from a reduction of restrictions on licences and is very popular.

But the RSF mission noted that journalists struggle to report because of repression from security forces. In April, security forces barred journalists from covering the arrival in Conakry of unsuccessful presidential candidate Cellou Dallein Diallo. In another instance, on 30 May, a dozen red berets brandishing guns raided the premises of the L'Indépendant - Le Démocrate group, which is owned by Aboubacar Sylla, who was Konaté's communication minister. The red berets were upset about an article published four days earlier, critical of soldiers' pay increases.

In another incident in May, three journalists were relieved of their positions as Radio Télévision Gui¬néenne (RTG) news presenters. Many in Conakry think they were "sanctioned for their supposed support for the pro-Diallo opposition party, the Union of Guinea Democratic Forces (UFDG), and that the decision to sideline them was taken at the highest government level," says RSF's mission report.

But coverage of the country's politics is uneven, says the report: "RTG has covered some UFDG news conferences but it did not mention Diallo's return to Guinea." Some fear that RTG has become an arm of the government. In its recommendations, the RSF mission calls on RTG to be accessible to all political parties, reflecting all of Guinean society.

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