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Community radio station in DR Congo suspended for airing interview with rebels

UPDATE: Radio Soleil FM back on air after three-month suspension (JED, 5 November 2012)

(JED/IFEX) – JED has expressed concern after Radio Soleil, a community radio station broadcasting out of Butembo, a town about 350 km from Goma, North Kivu province, eastern Democratic Republic of Congo, was suspended indefinitely by Butembo's mayor after airing an interview with the spokesperson of the M23 rebel group.

Butembo mayor Sikuly'Uvasaka Makala issued the order on 4 August 2012, saying the interview violated a directive of the broadcast regulator (CSAC) prohibiting call-in programmes discussing “the situation in the East”.

According to JED sources, Radio Soleil reporter Papy Siméon broadcast a telephone interview on 4 August with Vianney Kazarama, a spokesperson for the M23 rebel group, which has been battling the regular Congolese army (FARDC) in the east for several months. During the interview, Kazarema reportedly called on local residents to “withdraw their support from the FARDC”.

In his closure order, the mayor called the interview a “threat to national security”. Siméon has been barred from the city's airwaves.

Radio Soleil station director Kennedy Muhindo told JED, however, that his station gave equal air time to both Kazarama and a spokesperson for the FARDC, Colonel Ngeleka, in an effort to present both parties' sides in their coverage of a 3 August attack on two North Kivu villages.

“We presented both sides of the story, as any professional media outlet would,” Muhindo told JED. “Listeners have a right to know about the armed group that attacked (their town). There is no law in the DRC that prohibits journalists or media outlets from interviewing rebels.”

Radio Soleil is the second station to be closed in Butembo in three months. The mayor suspended broadcasts from Radio Liberté for three months in May after the station broadcast comments from the leader of an armed militia group.

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