Ten recommendations for strengthening media rights in DRC
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Journalist in Danger (JED), its partner in the Democratic Republic of Congo, propose ten recommendations for strengthening the new media law and journalism in the DRC.
RSF and JED are of the view that the new media law that is about to take effect in the DRC, after being adopted by the cabinet and the senate and signed by the president in mid-March, contains clearly positive elements but also suffers from significant flaws.
The two NGOs have discussed their assessment with several leading Congolese politicians including communication and media minister Patrick Muyaya and justice minister Rose Mutombo Kiese.
"By adopting this law, which is based on the recommendations of the national convention on communication and the media held a year ago, the authorities are clearly part of a positive press freedom dynamic", said Sadibou Marong, the head of RSF’s sub-Saharan Africa bureau. "But, as we pointed out to them, several of its provisions need to be strengthened. We particularly regret that offences such as defamation and insult are still punishable by imprisonment. We call on the authorities to repeal these provisions as soon as possible".
The shortcomings identified by RSF include the fact that the law maintains the concept of a press offence without providing a clear definition of what that covers. It does not provide specific and binding mechanisms to ensure respect for the independence, pluralism and reliability of public service media. And, although it includes the confidentiality of sources as a right, it does not specify the guarantees applicable in this area.
“The Congolese authorities must also, as a matter of urgency, take concrete measures to apply certain provisions concerning the safety and protection of journalists in the context of the persistent security crisis, particularly in the east of the country, and the increase in pre-election political tensions,” JED secretary-general Tshivis Tshivuadi added. “Adopting a new law is one thing, ensuring that everyone respects it is another".
As the DRC approaches presidential elections scheduled for December, RSF and JED propose the following recommendations for strengthening the legal framework for the media and improving the environment in which journalists operate:
- Guarantee the safety of reporters covering protests and the electoral process ;
- Provide practical safety training to journalists so that they are prepared for potential risks in the field, and encourage media to adopt safety protocols and provide their staff with individual first aid kits ;
- Revitalise the existing security mechanism for the protection of journalists by incorporating members of the justice ministry ;
- Conduct systematic and appropriate investigations into recognised cases of threats or violence against journalists in order to ensure that those responsible are brought to justice ;
- Amend the media law’s problematic provisions as soon as possible ;
- Publicise the new media law to ensure that those most affected, journalists, are fully aware of it ;
- Ensure that the newly promulgated Digital Law, which has not yet been published in the Official Gazette, is not used to circumvent the new media law and to detain journalists working online ;
- Encourage media to commit to quality journalism by obtaining certification from the Journalism Trust Initiative (JTI). RSF has just issued its 12th transparency report in the DRC, meaning that 12 Congolese media outlets have published their level of compliance with the JTI’s many quality criteria ;
- Promulgate the law on access to state-held information that is in the public interest ;
- Issue accreditation free of charge to journalists working for foreign media, and grant it (with no risk of deportation) to all foreign journalists wanting to travel to the DRC.