Tuesday, October 03, 2006

The relevance of Anderson Cooper 360 in Africa, the struggle for a free Congolese press.

"Rebellion" for Press Freedom
In the Democratic Republic of Congo, the press freedom group Journaliste en Danger defends and advocates.
by Julia Crawford
KINSHASA, Democratic Republic of Congo t's visiting time at Centre Pénitentiaire et de Réeducation, and long lines of women in colorful headscarves are waiting to bring food to relatives being held in this dirty, crowded prison.Charles Mushizi is there, too, as he is every week to visit jailed journalists. Mushizi is legal adviser to the Congolese press freedom group Journaliste en Danger (JED), and on this Sunday in June five journalists are in jail, including three new arrivals who have been put in "preventive" detention for allegedly defaming local dignitaries. One journalist, a diabetic, is sick from the poor diet and unsanitary conditions at the prison. Mushizi pushes his way through the crowded paths of the prison, and the journalists are brought, one by one, into a courtyard to meet him and two CPJ representatives. The journalists complain that there is no due process, that conditions are unsanitary. Before Mushizi leaves, he visits the prison director, who promises to move the sick journalist to better facilities. But it will take a stream of follow-up letters from JED before the journalist, Albert Kassa Khamy Mouya, is finally granted a provisional release. This is the kind of hard, persistent work that JED does every day in this central African nation where journalists still face violence, harassment, and imprisonment. Formed six years ago during the brutal regime of former President Laurent Kabila, JED provides legal and practical help to journalists in danger and presses for government reform."Setting up JED was a kind of rebellion against the systematic arrests, beatings, and censorship of the press," says Donat M'baya Tshimanga, JED's president since its inception. M'baya and JED Secretary- General Tshivis Tshivuadi, journalists by trade, have been in danger themselves for what they have reported. n May 1997, Tshivuadi was forced to flee Kinshasa and spend six months in hiding because of an article he wrote in Le Phare (The Lighthouse), the Kinshasa-based daily where he was deputy editor. The article accused former President Laurent Kabila, who had just seized power, of trying to create an ethnic army similar to that of the ousted dictator Mobutu Sese Seko. Le Phare's editor was arrested the next day, beaten, and tortured, while security agents came hunting for Tshivuadi. When he went into hiding, he says, his family was left without resources, not knowing where he was."It made me realize we needed an organization to defend journalists and to protect them," says Tshivuadi. So M'baya and Tshivuadi began working from a small, unmarked office with just a secretary, writing stories by hand to publicize and protest attacks on the press. JED gained international stature in October 1999, when it became a member of the Canada-based International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), which transmits JED's alerts around the world. IFEX Outreach Coordinator Kristina Stockwood calls JED "indispensable.""Since they have been on the ground, we have an incredibly reliable and credible source of information covering cases we otherwise wouldn't hear about," Stockwood says. "Seeing information going out of the country and coming back on the international newswires has also had a good impact on the DRC authorities."The uncertainty and danger of JED's work was highlighted in January 2001, when its leaders were forced underground after Laurent Kabila's government accused them of working for Rwandan-backed rebels. The charge was as good as a death sentence in a country at war with its eastern neighbors; security agents came hunting for them. It was only after Kabila was assassinated later that month, and his son Joseph became president, that JED reopened.Now M'baya and Tshivuadi have a team of five people working for them, and the JED logo adorns the office entrance for all to see. Their friends include major international and African press freedom groups, something they believe helps protect them from arrest. Under Joseph Kabila, the DRC has signed on to a peace process leading to democratic elections in 2005; the country's transitional constitution guarantees press freedom, though officials do not always respect that guarantee.Attacks on the press remain frequent, as evidenced by the threats, assaults, and imprisonment of several journalists since Rwandan-backed rebels briefly took control of the eastern city of Bukavu in June.But now, says Tshivuadi, "no case of an attack on the press can go unnoticed. People will know as soon as a journalist is imprisoned, for example. And that pressure contributes enormously to getting them released." ED is also asserting itself now politically, leading a campaign to remove criminal penalties for press "offenses" and denouncing abuses of the judicial system. "The biggest danger to the democracy we are trying to build here in Congo is our judicial system," M'baya says. "If you have no money, you will never win in the courts. Journalists are weak; they have no money. And as soon as someone brings a charge against a journalist, the first thing is that the judge gets them arrested and sent to prison."If a journalist denounces a case of corruption, the courts don't even try to find out if the journalist is right. No, no, the journalist is wrong to denounce corruption, wrong to denounce human rights abuses, wrong to criticize those with political power, to talk about the security situation in the east of the country or contradict the official version put out by the government. Our judicial system is far from independent, and I think it's a big danger for this country."While JED believes that no journalist should be jailed for his or her work, it is concerned about the quality of journalism in the DRC. "Many of the cases we have seen of journalists arrested and imprisoned are because they don't always respect their code of ethics," says Tshivuadi. "There are many journalists who have not been to training schools to learn how to collect, process, and distribute information."M'baya and Tshivuadi are stepping up JED's training efforts, particularly in the run-up to next year's elections, the DRC's first democratic poll since independence in 1960. For example, a recent workshop with journalists and politicians covered the dangers of "hate media," a pervasive concern with anti-Rwanda and antiforeigner propaganda still rife in the Congolese press.While pushing for higher professional standards, JED is also focusing on governmental reform. Any recent gains in press freedom, M'baya says, must be seen in light of one stark fact: Not a single law has been passed to guarantee the public's right to know, or to protect journalists from criminal liability."We have seen all the authorities, we've asked them to draft a law that would show they want to change things and that they are different from the old regime," he says. "They say they came to chase away dictatorship, that they came to install a democratic regime. But they continue to rule using the laws of that dictatorship. And we think that is a contradiction."Julia Crawford, CPJ's Africa Program coordinator, led a two-week mission to the Democratic Republic of Congo in June 2004

Two Television Channels Destroyed By Fire in Kinshasa, JED Demands Immediate Investigation

Journaliste En Danger (Kinshasa)
September 20, 2006
Posted to the web September 20, 2006

Only a week after their broadcast programming had resumed, after being suspended by the illegal and unfair cutting of their signal for 21 days, both of the television channels, Canal Congo Television (CCTV) and Canal Kin Television (CKTV), were shut down again in the early evening hours of 18 September 2006, by a mysterious fire which broke out and caused extensive damage. CKTV is privately-owned by vice-president, Jean-Pierre Bemba Gombo, who is a candidate in the second runoff of the presidential election.

According to the testimonies gathered by JED at the scene of the blaze, journalists and technicians working for these channels were surprised by a sudden "explosion", which was followed soon afterwards by a huge flame. The fire spread quickly on the third floor of the building that hosts the channels' editorial offices and studios. The same witnesses attested that important equipment was damaged and that persons inside the building were injured. The general manager of CCTV, Mr. Stephane Kitutu Oleontwa, suffered serious burns and was admitted to the emergency department at a local Kinshasa hospital.

During the early afternoon hours of 19 September 2006, a troublesome situation reigned in front of the headquarters of these TV stations, where a crowd of supporters of the People's Movement for the Liberation of Congo (MLC), the political party of Mr. Jean-Pierre Bemba, and some onlookers were stoning police officers as they attempted to disperse the demonstrators. Questioned by JED, most of the demonstrators told the watchdog organization that, this fire, which set ablaze these television outlets just few days after the resumption of their broadcasts, was seen as "a barbaric act of sabotage".

JED is seriously concerned by this awful situation, which has, as an immediate consequence, an effect of silencing media outlets that are considered "troublesome". JED hereby recalls the substance of its last open letter addressed to the special representative of the UN Secretary General in DR Congo, Mr. William Lacy Swing. In that letter, JED voiced its fears vis-à-vis the situation of extremely high tension created and maintained around these television channels, which were accused of many wrongdoings, since the provisional results of the 30 July first round of presidential elections were announced.

At a minimum, JED has noted that the destruction of these TV stations can be added to a series of events, which have targeted the media since the beginning of the year. Apart from making a few mere statements expressing good intentions, the government has never carried out a thorough investigation to shed light on any of these cases.

To illustrate:

1. The "Radio Sankuru Liberté", privately-owned by Mr. Joseph Olengakoy and based in Lodja, a territory located in the Eastern Kasai Province, was set ablaze in January 2006, by unknown persons.

2. The headquarters of the Radio-Television Message of Life (Radiotelevision Message de Vie, RTMV) in Binza/Pigeon District, privately-owned by the Army of Victory church, was wrecked on 22 May at approx. 9:00 p.m. (local time) by a dozen heavily armed, plain-clothed men, who jumped down from three Prado trucks. They destroyed the TV transmitter and then carried away the video/audio mixer, a computer, a TV monitor, and mobile phones. They also seriously beat four technicians that they encountered at the RTMV outlets.

3. The site hosting the CCTV (Canal Compo Television) relay antenna in Kisanga, which is a small town located not far from Lubumbashi, capital city of Katanga province, was sabotaged on 29 March, by unidentified armed men. A maintenance technician from the permanent staff was found that night stabbed to death.

4. On the night of 15-16 April, in Butembo, (the second city of North Kivu province, located 350 km from Goma, in eastern DR Congo), unidentified armed men seriously damaged the transmitters of RTG@ (RadioTelevision Groupe l'Avenir), which is privately-owned by an MP who is a senior member of the presidential party), Digital Congo, which is privately-owned by President Kabila's family, and the RTNC, DR Congo's national public radio broadcasting and television corporation.

5. Tujenge Kabambare, the only community radio station based in Kabambare, which is a territory located about 450 km from Kindu, the capital city of Maniema province, was wrecked and its editor beaten, on 24 May, by military officers who acted on orders by a well-known commander in the vicinity. The commander even boasted of inflicting "such a punishment" against the media outlet, which was disturbing him.

6. With respect to these incidents and attacks against the media, which have gone not only unpunished, but also unexplained, JED demands that a thorough and joint investigation be carried out by the government and MONUC (The United Nations Mission in DR Congo). An investigation is urgently required to determine the causes and identify those responsible for this campaign of violence against the media, particularly in the lead-up to the second round of presidential election campaigning.

JED urges an end to all threats, intimidation and the systematic stigmatization of media and journalists, including those who have treated media professionals as scapegoats of politicians' failures and therefore as justifiable targets.

In accordance with the clauses on the exercise of freedom of expression in DR Congo contained in the 22 June1996 Law N0 96/002, JED urges that RTNC be reopened, in order to enable equitable access to this public media outlet, particularly during this election period.

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Don't think for me. Don't assume what I want to hear or read. Give me facts. Give me reasons. But not yours. Bring me debate. Enlighten me. Today, accountability is masked behind anonymity; bylines are hidden by zeros and ones. Everyone publishes; everyone is "in the know." Ethics are non-existent. Speculation is king. The truth is masked and a hostage. Empowered by our minds, WE ARE THE FREAKSPEAKERS!


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