Friday, June 10, 2016

Congo-Brazzaville : Rich Press owners, poor reporters

Most Congolese journalists are the first to carry out self censorship and this not because of state brutality. It is done because; they are not financially free or independent. Even though we do accuse government’s brutality against journalists, as the main reason behind censorship, what we often ignored is that, poverty and financial uncertainties surrounding the profession is the greatest deterrent to the practice of good journalism in Congo and also within the sub region. However, the area where regional governments’ stands accuse is that, they have the capacity to compel all those who want to enter into the media sector to respect state labor laws as they do with other sectors, but they refrain from doing so. Furthermore, sub regional governments have the capacity to financially and professionally help local media industry to become independent. But sub regional governments deliberately refuses to support local press and instead prefers to invest in foreign media that will promote their interest as they have done in Congo with the financial support granted to Africanews, which is a subsidiary of Euronews or with Vision 4 TV.  Governments within the region especially those of Cameroon, Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon don’t see the necessity to have strong independent press. In their opinion, a strong professional and independent press will stand or constitute an adversary to them. Hence they want to see or they do encourage financially weak and unprofessional press.

The sub regional governments may be accused, for reasons aforementioned, but another unknown or the little heralded enemy of media freedom, independence and professionalism not only in Congo but within the central African sub region are proprietors of media houses. Most of them are not only greedy; they are most often corrupt and also lack management skills or experience. The last and perhaps also crucial impediment to media freedom and independence is the very small advertising market and also the absence of a strong service or industrial sector. Potential advertisers within the sub region are the few telephony companies and multinationals who dictate the rule within the advertising market. Most often, the advertising strategies of these companies are decided in the headquarters with little room for their subsidiaries to patronize local media houses. In such as condition, how does one expect the media industry in central Africa to be viable to a point of paying their staff regularly? How can a journalist who is not paid regularly resist corruption from politicians and businessmen or women? How does one expect an unpaid journalist to be independent?  Independent journalism has died in Congo because the press is not financially independent. The Congolese and central African journalists are caught up between the hammer of unscrupulous proprietors and the tong of a violent and repressive regime.

And as far as I was concern, I sustained  myself  and kept my independence  because I did  freelancing for media houses in France and in the United States. I also worked as a consultant for a business intelligence consultancy called Songhai Advisory. It is based in London, United Kingdom. To work as a journalist in Congo is not an easy task. It is in fact, very difficult, especially if you want to work as a professional independent journalist, respecting the basic tenets of the profession. Most professional journalists have either been forced to go into exile, intimidated through various means or bought over by the regime. And some have been killed. The best known Congolese journalists assassinated by the regime are Bruno Ossebi and Joseph Ngouala. And as such, only a group of journalists specialized in propaganda for the regime and the ruling Nguesso family are left in Congo to exercise their profession, which is in reality, to sing the praise of a system that is intolerant and worse, which has failed Congolese in all aspects.

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