Radios jammed, social media blocked in latest threat to media freedom in Guinea
In Guinea, several independent radio stations are being jammed and social media cannot be accessed without a VPN, says Reporters Without Borders (RSF), calling on the authorities to shed light on these serious media freedom violations and do what is needed to end them.
“You hear what sounds like wind or sometimes music dedicated to the army, glorifying national pride,” a listener said. The programmes of news radio station FIM FM have been jammed since the evening of 24 November. It has been the same with the news and entertainment radio station Djoma FM since 27 November, Espace FM since 29 November and Evasion since 30 November.
The platforms of Meta (WhatsApp, Messenger, Facebook and Instagram) and ByteDance (TikTok) have been blocked in Guinea since 24 November and can now only be accessed by means of a VPN.
The authorities have so far said nothing about this. RSF has tried to contact government spokesman Ousmane Gaoual Diallo, who is also minister of telecommunications, but he has not responded to messages. Speaking on condition of anonymity, a Guinean journalist deplored “the government's deaf ear and tight lips in response to a situation that is having a dangerous impact on freedom of expression.”
The jamming of independent radio stations and inaccessibility of social media are reminders of how fragile press freedom is in Guinea. The public is being denied its right of access to diverse news and information. Jamming radios looks alarmingly like an act of sabotage designed to silence them, and sends an extremely worrying signal. The authorities must say something, and must do whatever is needed to remedy this situation as quickly as possible.
Aboubacar Camara, who heads the Guinean Union of Free Radio and TV Stations (URTELGUI), told RSF that these radio frequencies have no internal technical problems and that he therefore believes they are being deliberately jammed.
“We have carried out checks,” he said. “If you shift the frequency, the signal gets through, you can receive the radio station. So, it’s the radio frequency itself that is being targeted.” To jam a frequency, he said you just need to “have transmitters of greater capacity than those possessed by the radio station, set them onto the desired frequency, and transmit what you want in their stead.”
Camara thinks the Post and Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (ARPT), Guinea’s telecommunications regulator, has such equipment and that it may be the cause of this interference. FIM FM director Talibé Barry agrees. “We are convinced that the ARPT’s silence is a sign of guilt.” When questioned on 27 November, Guinea’s High Authority for Communication (HAC) said it had “no additional information” and that it would investigate.
The jamming of FIM FM and Djoma FM began a few days after they covered the dismissal and arrest of public health minister Mamadou Phété Diallo for corruption and embezzling public funds. The jamming of Espace FM and Evasion began after they covered the jamming of the other two radio stations.
Frequent intermittent jamming
Guinea’s privately-owned radio stations are often jammed, especially since last May, when the country experienced a series of press freedom violations that had been without precedent since the military seized power in September 2021. Espace FM was jammed in mid-broadcast three weeks ago, as was Radio Baobab, a radio station based in Kankan that remained blocked for nearly two weeks.
FIM FM, which broadcasts in Conakry, the capital, and a few surrounding towns, is the radio station that experiences the most cuts. Its director says it has been the target of “at least five jamming operations” since May. “Sometimes, after announcing the name of a guest on our flagship show ‘Mirador,’ the signal is jammed as soon as they speak and it can last the whole day,” he said.
Camara says the blockages often occur when the show addresses “hot issues” and that they are “systematic, and can last an hour, a day, or even two.” FIM FM was previously jammed at the beginning of November, when a commando attacked Conakry’s main prison in a briefly successful attempt to free the head of a previous military junta, Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara.
Meanwhile, for the past year or so, the authorities have been denying FIM FM’s requests for permission to install ten transmitters in other parts of the countries to relay its signal, which is broadcast from Conakry. No reason has been given for the refusal.
On 27 November, FIM FM’s management announced that it was suspending its programmes – which could still be accessed on digital platforms with the help of a VPN – because of the jamming of its frequency.
Decline in press freedom
RSF has been voicing concern about the repeated attacks on press freedom in Guinea. The blocking of social media and privately-owned radio stations in May has been followed by other violations. They include the arrest in October of ten journalists covering a protest in defence of press freedom and against the two-month-old blocking of the Guinée Matin news website. Several of them were roughed up and all were held for several hours, until they were brought before a court in the Conakry district of Kaloum and charged with participating in an illegal demonstration.
No explanation was given for the blocking of the Guinée Matin website from mid-August until 5 November. Access to another independent news site, Inquisiteur.net, was blocked within Guinea for a month and a half from the start of September.