Media pluralism is a reality in the DRC but, in the eastern province of Nord-Kivu, the media have been badly affected by fighting between the army and M23 rebels. Against this backdrop, the national assembly passed a new media law in April 2023, just months ahead of general elections.
Sub-Saharan Africa’s biggest country, the DRC has more than 7,000 professional journalists, 540 newspapers (of which only about 15 are published regularly), 177 TV channels, more than 4,000 radio stations and 36 online media. Only the state radio and TV broadcaster, Radio Télévision nationale congolaise (RTNC), the UN’s Radio Okapi and Top Congo FM 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, militiamen, religious groups, and politicians to exert pressure on the journalists and media outlets present in their province.
The 1996 press law was revised in April 2023 on the basis of the recommendations of a national media convention held in January 2022, which called for a more modern and more protective legal framework for journalists and the media. The new press law tightens the conditions for access to the profession of journalist; does not explicitly abolish prison sentences for press offences, but it adds a “bad faith” requirement to the definition of the offences of false information and allegations disturbing public order; and gives journalists access to information of public interest that is not classified and does not involve state security or national defence.
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. The conflict in Nord-Kivu is off-limits for the media, which are caught between rebel violence and the army’s response. Some radio stations or radio broadcasts were suspended in 2021 for “incitement to tribalism and violence”. Many journalists routinely censor themselves. Corruption and certain mining contracts are among the subjects that are most likely to prompt self-censorship.
The dangers to which journalists and media are exposed include arrest, intimidation, physical violence, media closures, media outlets getting ransacked, and murder. In Nord-Kivu, they have been threatened by a wave of harassment and reprisals since the start of 2023 despite a ceasefire. M23 rebels ordered some media outlets to change their editorial policies. Discouraging the armed forces via the media in wartime is punishable by death. The security forces have been implicated in many abuses but enjoy complete impunity.