November 3, 2017

Guinean government harassing privately-owned broadcast media

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is alarmed by the Guinean government’s harassment of privately-owned media outlets and attempts to gag critical journalists. Two radio stations have been silenced in the past week and ten journalists were injured in clashes with the police.

Reporters and presenters at Espace FM, a Conakry-based radio station owned by the Hadafo Media group, lost control of their programming today when music began being played on their broadcast frequency at the behest of the High Communications Authority (HAC), which is in charge of enforcing media legislation.

The HAC issued an order yesterday suspending Espace FM “and all of its stations throughout the country for seven days” on the grounds that one of its programmes, Les Grandes Gueules, had broadcast “reports liable to endanger state security and undermine the morale of the armed forces.”

Hadafo Media group director Kalil Oularé said the HAC accused Espace FM of violating Guinea’s media laws “just because it pointed out that the army lacked resources and equipment and that this could result in complications in the event of a crisis.”

The Hadafo Media group consists of a TV channel and two radio stations in Conakry and three provincial relay stations.

“Suspending a radio station that simply referred to a fact known to everyone is unprecedented in Guinea and completely incomprehensible,” said Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an NGO that defends media freedom.

“This sanction is all the more disturbing as it comes just days after unacceptable violence against journalists protesting in support of a colleague who had been arrested on the basis of groundless accusations. These incidents indicate a worrying readiness on the part of the authorities to try to silence media outlets known for being outspoken and critical.”

All of the Guinean media reacted angrily to the arrests of Abdoubabacar Camara, the director-general of the Gangan radio and TV group, and three of his journalists on 30 October on the pretext that they had helped spread false rumours that President Alpha Condé had died.

Radio Gangan broadcast funeral music last weekend because one of its journalists had died.

On 31 October, many journalists gathered outside the gendarmerie branch in the Conakry district of Matam where Camara was being held. When they refused to leave, gendarmes charged them, injuring ten of them and smashing equipment.

A Gangan TV cameraman who filmed the violence has been the target of daily threats ever since then and is said to be concerned for his safety. Radio Gangan’s broadcast frequency is meanwhile being jammed by the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Agency (ARPT). This is the first time the agency has jammed a privately-owned radio station.

According to Hadafo Media’s Oularé, Espace FM’s suspension is directly linked to these incidents. “We are the victims of our solidarity with our Radio Gangan colleagues,” he said. “The president of the High Communications Authority is allergic to criticism. This attitude is dangerous for the entire press.”

High Communications Authority president Martine Condé was President Alpha Condé’s election campaign manager in 2010. They are not related.

“A lot of people listen to our programme every morning,” said Lamine Guirassy, one of the main hosts of Les Grandes Gueules. “The government clearly wants to silence us because we represent an obstacle to a possible third term for the president.”

Many Guineans suspect that President Condé intends to amend the constitution illegally in order to be able to run for a third term. Condé himself has said nothing on this subject. But the silence imposed on the privately-owned media in recent days is, rightly or wrongly, seen by part of the population as an additional sign of this intention. President Condé’s current term ends in December 2020.

Guinea is ranked 101st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2017 World Press Freedom Index.