International Communications Forum

Changing Media for a Changing Society

April 5-9 Cape Town

Angola: The Killing Media

Rafael Marques*

As Angola celebrates a year of peace, the State media continues to carry a message of hatred, of killing and of ethnic cleansing.        

On March 2 2003, a one page editorial in the State-run daily newspaper Jornal de Angola, called upon the Angolan people to take up the streets to “beat up or kill either slowly or at speed” the remaining members of UNITA who dared to remember their slain leader Jonas Savimbi[1].

The editorial demanded that the Government halt the disarming of civilians, so as to ensure their participation in the slaughter. Recently, the head of the National Police, Commander Ekuikui, acknowledged that up to a third of Angolan adults have weapons in their homes.

Such blunt incitements to violence are a follow up to a prior call for an ethnic cleansing within the Government. On February 28, Jornal de Angola editorialist evoked, for the first time in many years, the need for ethnic cleansing. It lamented that the ruling MPLA had “allowed an extensive and shameless integration of Ovimbundu people in the Government”[2]. It went further in despising the Angolan Episcopal Conference, for having a number of bishops, including its president, from the Ovimbundu ethnic group[3]. As a matter of fact, the Ovimbundu ethnic group accounts for over 35% of the Angolan population, thus being the largest ethnic group in the country. The Ovimbundu also form the backbone of UNITA, the former rebel group.

What I have mentioned, in brief, is just a replay of the State media’s role in fueling the massacres of May 27 1977, throughout Angola, which claimed the lives of between 30,000 to 60,000 people, according to different accounts. Jornal de Angola, at the time, was notorious for inciting violence. Its then director, Fernando Costa Andrade, currently an MPLA parliamentarian, penned daily incendiary editorials against faction leaders and members of the MPLA. That built up the official and popular mood for the massacres that followed afterwards. Costa Andrade’s main motto was that “the revolution must be implacable against its enemies.” “The enemy” meant those who disagreed with the country’s leadership.

Today, Costa Andrade has a clone at the helm of Jornal de Angola, its current director Luís Fernando.

It is reminiscent of the media’s role in the Rwandan genocide of 1994.

Yet, the government has so far maintained its tacit approval of the editorials I have mentioned, by failing, at least, to distance itself from the content. Those in power exercise a tighter control over the State media and simply determine what to publish and what not.

Let us not get depressed nor bypass the gravity of the situation. Due to the fierce State media campaign against any institution or any individual who dares to challenge the unaccountability and impunity of the regime, Angolan opposition and civil society are in disarray. Bowed down!

A great example of such an attitude was the letter of apology of the Catholic Bishops to the President of the Republic, Mr. Dos Santos. The Bishops apologized on behalf of the listeners who have been expressing their anger against the president’s rule on the FM Catholic-run Rádio Ecclésia. Such criticism was deemed as insulting.

How did the Government officially respond to Rádio Ecclésia’s stand in giving voice to the voiceless and let people be critical of the Government?

On February 10 2003, the Minister of Information, Hendrik Vaal Neto, read a statement on the National Radio of Angola (RNA) accusing Rádio Ecclésia of practicing «antenna terrorism» against the Angolan Government.

As the Government spokesperson, Mr. Vaal Neto encouraged public or covert action against the radio. He said: “In due time people will know what position to take”.

By the way, let us just shift our attention to the rest of the country. In the Southern province of Benguela, the governor, Dumilde Rangel, issued, on March 03 2003, an order forbidding the local media to publish anything that is not favorable to the government[4]. Local journalists’ protests did not matter at all, end of the story.

In Cabinda, the director of the local radio, Carlos Cruz, was fired just days ago, for befriending an outspoken priest much hated by the government, Father Congo. War continues unabated in the Cabinda Nation, while the local media has neither limits, in inventing whatever it wishes to say, nor language restrictions to humiliate and destroy the morale of any dissenting voice. The catholic priests are the main targets of such a low policy.

Somehow, the MPLA Regime has lost its mask. The same one it used to avert the pressure from international media organizations at the height of its violations against freedom of press in 1999 and 2000.

This time, State journalists have also been targeted in the streets for taking up social matters. On March 10, Domingos Pedro, from the State News Agency ANGOP, decided to take notes on the scene of a homicide[5] in the Eastern Province of Lunda-Sul. Police officers confiscated his material, hauled him off to a car and beat the hell out of him. The journalist spent 14 hours in jail. He had no time to commit the crime of writing.

Two crews from Angolan Public Television recently felt the repression of the Police, which is normally reserved for independent media journalists. In the first incident, on February 23, the police furiously attacked a cameraman, José Zua, who tried to take images of a crowd of fans protesting, outside the stadium, against the Angolan Soccer Federation (FAF), for the bad results of the Angolan soccer team. Police officers kicked him all over the body as punching bag. He had to be assisted in the hospital with serious wounds in his head and other parts of the body.

A week later, in another incident, the fiscal police force, set up by the Provincial Government of Luanda to repress street vendors in the centre of the city, attacked the television crew who were filming them beating the street vendors. 

What is interesting about these two incidents is the reaction of the police and the ruling MPLA. Both condemned the acts and promised to take action against the culprits.

So, for the regime it is fine to call for ethnic cleansing, but unacceptable to beat a State cameraman over soccer disenchantment.

Considerations

For Mr. Dos Santos regime to cling onto power, the media needs to convey its threats, and to express its repressive character so as to impose fear among people. It has neither the capacity nor the audacity to drive democratic reforms, promote national reconciliation and lead the reconstruction of the country.

Riddled by incompetence and uncertainties, the regime has retained, for the past four years, a very expensive contract with a Brazilian PR firm that provides Brazilian editors for the State media outlets for a better control and quality of the propaganda machinery.

As the regime controls the only daily newspaper (Jornal de Angola), the only radio that broadcasts throughout the country “ (RNA) and the only TV station (TPA), it can afford to reign without much pressure.

The six weekly independent newspapers do not print more than 30,000 copies for Luanda’s city dwellers, while FM Rádio Ecclésia - which can be heard only in Luanda - remains the only and truly independent radio station in the country.

Furthermore, for the regime’s media strategy to work – in reminding people of the level of violence that can be unleashed against any dissent – it requires great international support to balance the growing internal discontentment.

 Ways forward

A number of Angolan civil society organizations have joined forces to call upon those of goodwill, who would like to help, to press the government until it loses its grip on the State media, for the sake of democracy, tolerance and freedom of the press.

Unless the government is pushed hard to stop using the media as tool to stimulate violence, maintain a state of fear and to cover up its maladministration, freedom of the press will remain hostage to the whims of those in power.

In order to guarantee to the public greater access to responsible and non-partisan information, members of Angolan civil society have been proposing:

·    The creation of programmes directed towards monitoring the action of the media in the broadcasting of messages of reconciliation, particularly the State media;

·    The removal of any party affiliation scheme for job access, maintenance or promotion in the State media; and the consequent nomination of independent and consensual directors for those selfsame organs, as an essential guaranty for the plurality, impartiality and their freedom in relation to all political parties;

·    The participatory preparation and application of a subsidy policy to the independent media so as to provide them with basic incentives for their self-sustenance and professional development and, consequently, their gradual expansion throughout the whole country and the exercising of their plurality and diversity of information.

I am one of these civil society members. Thank you very much.

*Country Director for the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa


[1] Chicoadão, Ver, Ouvir e...Falar, Gatos Selvagens Rejeitam a Reconciliação (1), Jornal de Angola, 2 de Março de 2003, pág 5.

[2] Chicoadão, Ver, Ouvir e...Falar, Gatos Selvagens Rejeitam a Reconciliação (2), Jornal de Angola, 28 de Fevereiro de 2003.

[3] idem

[4] Censura em Benguela, 04 de Março de 2003, O Apostolado On-Line

[5] Notícias Lusófonas, 11 de Março de 2003


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