The very ambitious reform programme adopted during a national conference on the media in January 2022 could open the way to a new era for the DRC’s journalists, who are exposed to a hostile and precarious environment and under the influence of politicians.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s largest country, the DRC has more than 7,000 professional journalists, 540 newspapers (of which only about 15 are published regularly), 177 TV channels, 61 radio stations and 36 online media. Only the state radio and TV broadcaster Radio Télévision nationale congolaise (RTNC) and the UN’s Radio Okapi reach the entire country. The print media are almost non-existent outside the capital, Kinshasa. News websites such as Actualité.cd and 7sur7.cd are developing fast.
The Congolese media landscape is marked by the presence of politicians who own or launch media outlets intended to promote their influence and rise to power. The national radio and TV broadcaster is a state media outlet that lacks independence. It is very common for local authorities to exert pressure on the journalists and media outlets present in their province.
The legislation is obsolete and oppressive but the authorities have committed to an overhaul of the 1996 press law. The media are awaiting new laws that would abolish prison sentences for press offences and allow access to state-held information in the public interest, as well as ensure the editorial independence of public broadcasting, and enhance the powers of the media regulator (in order to end arbitrary media suspension and reinforce professionalism).
Congolese journalists and media outlets lead a very precarious existence. Employment contracts are rare and the practice of “coupage” – whereby journalists receive a cash payment for covering an event or reporting some information – is widespread. The funding that the state has to legally provide to media outlets has never been distributed in a transparent manner. Very few media outlets are viable and independent, and most are influenced by those who back them.
Journalists are sometimes targeted on the basis of their ethnic or community affiliation, and they are exposed to reprisals in connection with their work, particularly in the east of the country, where there are many armed groups. Some radio stations or radio broadcasts were suspended in 2021 for “incitement to tribalism and violence”. Many journalists routinely censor themselves.
Journalist in Danger, RSF’s partner organisation in the DRC, tallied 110 press freedom violations in 2021, including threats, physical attacks, murders, media outlets closed or ransacked, and around 40 cases of arbitrary arrest or detention. A community radio director was murdered in Ituri and a woman journalist sustained a gunshot injury in Goma. The security forces, who were responsible for nearly half of these abuses, enjoy complete impunity.