Overview

The vastness of the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), its nine borders, the diversity of its population and economy, affect the media landscape of the country, which can be considered 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 December 2017, the DRC has 625 radio stations, 571 print media and 387 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 airing live debates on social 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 2018.

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 under the yoke of political dependence and the internal absence of the technical capacities necessary for the execution of its constitutional and legal missions. 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. Since the 1990s, the country has been ruled by military regimes and formers members of militias. These groups of leaders are hostile to media criticism. It is not easy for journalists to criticise, even objectively, the quality of political, economic, judicial, security, and other governance without facing serious risks. This fear is 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 pursued. 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 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. Indeed, the transition from a military regime to a civilian one could give more chance to the development of freedom of expression in the country.