Reporters Without borders is relieved to learn that the broadcast signal of the French public radio station Radio France Internationale, switched off on 31 December on the orders of the Congolese communications minister, Lambert Mende, was restored today.
The suspension of broadcasts by the station, which was criticised for its coverage of the events since the disputed presidential election last month, had aroused international protests, notably from France and the United States.
The news is tempered, however, by a 45-day closure order issued three days ago against the radio station Radio Communautaire du Katanga by Mukanya Ilunga, head of communications in Katanga province.
The station was criticised for re-broadcasting RFI programmes in defiance of government orders. Reporters Without Borders deplores this illegal action and calls on the appropriate authorities to restore RCK’s broadcasts immediately.
06.01.12 - Regulators to decide RFI’s future after government orders it off the air
Reporters Without Borders condemns the shutdown of broadcasts by the French public radio station Radio France Internationale ordered by the authorities in the Democratic Republic of Congo and calls for their immediate restoration.
The press freedom organization also condemned the government’s failure to follow correct procedures and the methods used to take the station off the air.
It is the official responsibility of the Higher Council for Broadcasting and Communications (CSAC) to inform the political authorities of any decision to halt broadcasts by any media outlet. In the event, it was the authorities themselves who took the first step before asking the regulatory body to take up the case.
“Switching off the RFI signal demonstrates once again the unease and tension on the part of the Congolese authorities over how the international media treat current events in their country,” Reporters Without Borders said.
“The latter are all too often pilloried for merely doing their job of informing the public.
“The switch-off also raises serious questions about the independence of the CSAC. How are we to interpret this precautionary measure taken by the information minister, followed by the transfer of the case to the Higher Council, when the CSAC itself is the only body competent to take up such a case and order a closure?” asked the organization, which recalled that its partner in the DRC, Journalist in Danger, had recommended the abolition of the CSAC in its report published on 28 December.
On 2 January, communications minister Lambert Mende announced he had ordered the temporary suspension of RFI’s frequencies as a “precautionary measure” until the CSAC ruled on the case.
The shutdown is linked directly to the radio station’s coverage of the disputed results of the presidential election last November. The government accused RFI of trying to “trivialize the anti-constitutional comedy of Mr. Tshisekedi", a reference to opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi who stood against President Joseph Kabila in the election.
The French minister for co-operation, Henri de Raincourt, reaffirmed France’s “commitment to freedom of the press and freedom of information” at talks with his Congolese counterpart.
Two days ago, the United States called for the immediate restoration of RFI broadcasts in the country.
The Congolese authorities suspended RFI transmissions between July 2009 and October 2010, when they accused the radio station of conducting a campaign to demoralize the country’s armed forces.
At the instigation of Journalist In Danger, a campaign and a petition were launched in February 2010 for the resumption of RFI broadcasts. It returned to the airwaves after intense negotiations between the government and the station’s managers.
Photo : RFI's logo (Joel Saget / AFP)