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Congo's Journalists Face Election Fire

In the Democratic Republic of Congo, post-war elections have been marked by violence between rival supporters and against political campaigners. Meanwhile, journalists are being attacked, sanctioned and criticized for being biased or foreigners. VOA's Nico Colombant reports from Kinshasa before the second round of presidential voting on October 29.

An official from Congo's media authority recently read out sanctions against a weekly allied to President Joseph Kabila and a radio station backing his election rival, Vice President Jean-Pierre Bemba.

The official again warned journalists not to incite violence, not to publish unproven allegations, and not to have live call-in shows that incite hate speech.

He said, "We are in a very critical situation because this is the first election we organize in Congo."

Luc-Roger Mbala is the editor for the independent L'Observateur newspaper.

"I think that it is time now for each journalist to see how to organize our profession. The problem of violence now, it is because media are not responsible in front of this. It is very important for journalists to know that the situation must be changed," he said.

A television close to Mr. Bemba denounces accusations made on pro-Kabila television stations that fighters for the former Uganda-backed rebel took part in acts of cannibalism.

The director of programming for Canal Kin, another television in favor of Mr. Bemba, Deo Kongo, says she does not understand the sanctions which have targeted her television station repeatedly.

She says it seems some media are more sanctioned than others and that some sanctions are applied, while others are ignored.

Canal Kin was also attacked several times, including by arsonists. Its stations in other cities were also vandalized.

Meanwhile, Bemba supporters attacked the headquarters of media authorities.

Polydor Muboyayi, who heads the observatory of Congolese media, says his group tried to educate journalists on being more careful in their reporting and in avoiding bribes.

But he says sanctions have not been clear, with some coming from the media authority as he understood it should be and others coming directly from the Information Ministry.

Foreign journalists are often seen by Kabila opponents as enemies. They are sometimes roughed up during protests or angrily chased away.

Many Congolese journalists interviewed for this report say a more democratic system of government would allow media to flourish, but they say for this to happen adequate and transparent elections are needed.

Some admit they have not helped in creating an environment conducive for peaceful elections, and that maybe more time was needed after decades of dictatorship and war.