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MEDIA BAN EXPLAINS RECORD NUMBER OF ATTACKS ON MEDIA

Nearly 40 Kinshasa-based radio and television stations have been banned in the Democratic Republic of the Congo since October, in what the government says is an effort to "clean up the profession." The ban largely accounts for the record number of violations against journalists and the media in the country in 2007, says Journalist in Danger (Journaliste en danger, JED), which marked International Human Rights Day on 10 December by denouncing the "programmed death" of the opposition media.

"The general situation of the press is of concern," says JED. "Not only have media outlets been forced to toe the official line to ensure their survival, but...(those) who have upset the authorities have already been reduced to silence."

Twenty-two television channels and 16 radio stations have been banned since 20 October for "failing to conform to laws" regulating the media industry, for not paying taxes or for not having valid licences, according to Information Minister Toussaint Tshilombo.

But Tshilombo admitted that the decision to "clean up the profession" stems from a government meeting in March, the day members of the Congolese Armed Forces violently clashed with guards of Jean-Pierre Bemba, an exiled former vice president, rebel leader and an arch-enemy of President Laurent Kabila. The ban in particular affects a television channel and radio network owned by Bemba.

Although several stations report they have since paid their dues or submitted required documents, they have not been allowed to reopen.

"The government is doing nothing to settle this terrible situation," says JED. "Parliament is looking elsewhere while media professionals are suffering with unemployment, and forced to become beggars."

The broadcast ban is symptom of a larger deterioration of press freedom in the DRC. In its annual report, JED found that one year after the elections and the establishment of new, "democratic" institutions, violations against journalists and the media increased by a whopping 30 percent since 2006. In 90 percent of the 163 cases, the very institutions that should protect journalists are those carrying out the attacks: the police, the army and state security forces.

JED's hefty annual report investigates attacks against journalists and the media in DRC as well as six other countries in Central Africa - Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Chad, Gabon and Rwanda. Work in the region is done on behalf of the Central African Media Organisation (Organisation des Médias d'Afrique Centrale, OMAC).

Download the report (available in French only) here: http://www.jed-afrique.org/_fichiers/documents_url_26.pdf

Also visit this link:
- JED: http://www.jed-afrique.org/full_view.php?id_alerte=715
(18 December 2007)

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