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DRC newspaper banned as ‘war’ against critical media intensifies

Provincial authorities in the north-east of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) have indefinitely suspended the bi-monthly newspaper Kisangani News for ‘operating illegally’, UN-funded Radio Okapi reported this week on its website.

Kisangani, the country’s third-largest city located some 2600 km from the capital Kinshasa, is in the Tshopo Province, a huge area rich in natural resources including gold and timber.

“I have withdrawn the business license of Kisangani News because it was operating outside the laws governing the press,” Dominique Lekakwa, head of the provincial division for the communication and media ministry, told the station.

However, the newspaper editor lashed out at Lekakwa for taking an ‘exaggerated’ decision. The popular newspaper, well known for its anti-government rhetoric, is accused by the authorities of continually producing an insulting and offending content.

“Do not take away a newspaper’s business license, instead take drastic steps to ensure that the issue that is deemed offending does not get to the shelves,” Kisangani News editor Sébastien Mulamba lamented.

Media self-regulation mechanisms in the DRC are almost non-existent, as the body (CSAC) tasked to play this role is said to be manipulated by the government, which funds it and appoints its members.

CSAC has supported the ministry’s decision to ban the newspaper, citing its lack of professionalism.

Media and political space in the DRC remains tight and highly scrutinised by the government, intelligence agencies and security forces, as Joseph Kabila seeks to overstay in power beyond the end of his constitutional term in office that ends on December 19.

A total of 61 newspapers have been banned since 2014 in the DRC, and 75 others have been declared ‘defunct’ by the government, according to Reporters Without Borders.

“It is questionable whether the ministry has the power to ban newspapers. This should be a matter for the regulatory authorities or, if appropriate, the courts…. Nonetheless, it is important that the Congolese authorities should not use bureaucratic pretexts to harass the media, as they are doing here,” the Paris-based media watchdog said.

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