JUNE 2014: Freeing the Press from Bonds of War, Poverty, Corruption, and Harassment in DR Congo

The history of The Democratic Republic of Congo (former known as Zaire) has been one of civil war and corruption.

Since independence in 1960 and the assassination of the first leader Patrick Lumumba, a number of conflicts has kept returning to a country very rich on natural resourced but with one of the poorest populations in Africa.

On June 4 and 5, around 30 journalists with gather in Bukavu near the border of Rwanda to discuss the many challenges Congolese journalists face in their everyday life and work marred by armed conflicts for years. A key goal for the event is to enable journalists to share their experiences and discuss solutions to those challenges.

A number of local journalists will share on different subjects:

Thais Bagula, Head of Programmes at Radio Maendeleo will speak on the media’s roles and responsibilities in a time of armed conflict. Also Bonnat MUSEMA, Director of FM radio IRIBA will address the many challenges the armed conflicts are posing for DR Congo, and Deogratias Ndayishimiye from Burundi will share experiences from the time of genocide in his country.

Looking to the future, Blaise Sanyila, CEO of Vision TV and FM Shalla will discuss the possibilities and opportunities for a free press in the country, and Jolly Kamuntu, President of the Board of AFEM / SK will share the experiences gained by the Association of Women in Media.

CEO of The Media Project, Dr Arne H Fjeldstad will bring in his international perspective on corruption, religion and the media. At least 1 trillion US dollars is expended every year in corrupt ways that imprison masses in poverty while enriching a few. A 2002 AU report estimates that Africa loses more than $148 billion annually to corruption.

“When Mobutu seized power in 1965 and later renamed the country Zaire and himself Mobutu Sese Seko he turned Zaire into a springboard for operations against Soviet-backed Angola and thereby ensured US backing. But he also made Zaire synonymous with corruption, and DR Congo’s reputation as a very poor country marred by corruption on all levels of society is keeping it as one of the poorest countries in the world despite a wealth of natural resources,” says Fjeldstad.

The 2006 constitution guarantees freedom for the Press but the government is using a wide range of licensing requirements, as well as security and criminal libel laws, to restrict freedom of the press. Critical journalists and broadcasters are frequently harassed, intimidated, arrested or imprisoned. Broadcasting institutions can also be banned from operating and the contents of their broadcasts censored.

“The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) is very accurate when they say it is especially hard for reporters living in emerging democracies and developing countries to do investigative reporting,” says Fjeldstad. 

“Unlike countries with a strong foundation of democracies, journalists often times risk everything, including their lives to report on corruption and criminal activity. IFJ stresses there can be no Press Freedom if Journalists Exist in Conditions of Corruption, Poverty or Fear, which is absolutely true.” 

The Media Project
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