With the support of UNESCO, since the beginning of the current year (2020), the DRC has also committed to setting up an observatory for the safety of journalists. Beyond this commitment, no action has so far been taken by the authorities. It also remains unfortunate that no effort has been made to date to guarantee impunity for the crimes that are continuously committed against journalists. The annual “Reporters Without Borders” ranking for 2020 puts the DRC at 150th out of 180 states. And the ranking in Central Africa, carried out by the NGO “Journaliste En Danger” (JED) ranks the DRC 44th out of 53 countries surveyed. According to the NGO, the DRC has recorded 83 cases of attacks on press freedom in just 12 months. These rankings show how much freedom of information and criticism for the media as well as the right of access to information for the population in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) continue to be real challenges. However, in late December 2018, the country inaugurated a new legislature characterized by the election of a new president of the Republic and new members of parliament. Since then, media professionals and defenders of fundamental freedoms have expressed new hopes for the freedom of expression improvement. They asked the new power to reform the legal and institutional framework relating to freedom of expression. To date, some improvements have certainly been noticed (there is not jailed journalists), the country has certainly gained four places in the ranking compared to 2019, but the law and the institutional framework are still not improved. During his constitutional swear, the new president pledged to make the media “truly a fourth power”. Meanwhile, members of Congolese civil society had already take the access to information bill to parliament. The purpose of this text is to oblige all public representatives to allow the public information to be accessible to journalist and to all citizen in the name of the “public's right to information” as well as the “right to know”. This text has not also been voted so far. It is important to say that the poor quality of the press freedom in the DRC is not only a consequence of bad texts and the absence of other complementary laws. It is also a consequence of the institutional and operational weaknesses of the institutions which have been set up to supervise it but which do almost nothing.
The vastness of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), its nine borders, the diversity of its population and economy, continue to negatively affect the media landscape of the country, which is expected to be considered as a true information hub in Africa.
The media market is highly populated but not very competitive and started developing along the current trends in the 1990s. The main steps of this process have been: The emergence of freedom of expression and the adoption of a specific law on the modalities to exercise this freedom (June 22, 1996), the creation of the first public institution of media regulation (2004), the re-foundation of the journalistic profession by the establishment of a media observatory (2004) and the establishment of a second public institution of media regulation (2011). Alongside public media, created by the state and staffed by career agents of the public administration, several other private media have been created and continue to be created from day to day.
The country experiences a diversity of information and a plurality of media that should largely contribute to strengthening the overall quality of its governance. As of January 2020, the DRC has 627 radio stations, 571 print media and television channels listed across its 26 provinces. These figures do not include online media, the exact number of which is not known due to a lack of regulation in the field.
Apart from the community radio and television stations that are present in most of the provinces, the printing houses of the most developed newspapers are located in Kinshasa. Only four or five newspapers are published daily, but within an undeveloped market. The low purchasing power of the Congolese hinders the development of the media market. On the whole, national media are economically unsustainable. Commercial media offer a variety of programmes, most of which are sponsored by paying customers. They also sell commercial advertising to individuals or companies and other organisations that order them. The impact of these media on the population is almost zero. Except for certain commercial media that are getting closer and closer to the population (eg Radio Top Congo FM) by raising up live debates on social, political, judicial and economic events happening in the cities.
The political influence in the creation of media has been a constant feature since the 1990s after the National Sovereign Conference (CNS). The freedom to create private media was felt during this period by political competitors, who saw it as an opportunity to communicate and strengthen their image by means of accessible communications and thus to overcome the exclusion from public media, which were monopolised by the dictatorial regime that was in place. Since the 1990s, all private commercial media have belonged to politicians or are close to political parties and groups. For the same reasons, the civil society organisations and the so-called "revival" churches have subsequently followed the lead of the politicians and created media of a third category known as "associative and community" as well as "faith-based” media. This trend of the 1990s is still present and strong in 2020.
The country has several university faculties and departments as well as higher institutes that devote their teaching to social sciences, media and journalism. This academic training largely provides the basis for journalistic professionalism based on scientific and technical learning. To this end, it constitutes one of the criteria for assessing the technical level of the recipients who wish to enter the profession and who, for this purpose, pass through the professional media organisations (UNPC, ANEAP, ANECO, SNPP, OMEC, etc). Overall, the Congolese school is not efficient or competitive compared to other training institutions in the region and the professional organisations themselves are in a state that requires reinforcement in order to be up to their task. The public institution responsible for regulating the media is still under the political dependence and the internal absence of the technical capacities necessary for the execution of its constitutional and legal missions continue to negatively affect the media’s content. All of these are real challenges to professional journalism. On the whole, Congolese media work in fear that is justified by the intimidation and threats that their professionals face from political and military actors. From the 1990s to 2018, the country has been ruled by military regimes and formers members of militias. These groups of leaders were avry hostile to media criticism. Even if in 2018 the country got a civilian head of state the situation have not changed so much. It is still not easy for journalists to criticise, even objectively, the quality of political, economic, judicial, security, and other governance issues without facing serious risks. This fear is still reinforced by the rigour of the Press Law, which offers no possibility for the journalist to establish, when sued, the true character of the information for which he is prosecuted. The serious technical and institutional weaknesses as well as the strong political dependence of the public institution that is in charge of the regulation of the media continue to permit and to reinforce the bad political intervention in the exercise of freedom of the press in general.
All of these factors justify, in large part, the position of the country, among the last, in the rankings regarding freedom of expression in general in the annual reports of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), International Freedom for Expression (IFEX) and other organisations. However, since December 2018, with the election of a new president who is a civilian and who has never been a member of the militias, hope is reborn and human rights defenders continue to push for reforms in order to give more chance to the development of the freedom of expression.