The government wields a great deal of influence over the media, which appear to be diverse but routinely censor themselves. Journalists are rarely subjected to arbitrary detention but may end up being held for a long time if they are.
Congo-Brazzaville has a densely populated media landscape with around 20 privately owned TV channels, 20 newspapers and 40 radio stations. Digital Radio Television (DRTV), the first privately owned TV channel, and Vox TV are the most popular channels. Privately owned Radio Mucodec is also very popular. Les Dépêches de Brazzaville is the only daily newspaper while the weekly La Semaine Africaine, founded in 1952, is the oldest. Although the media landscape seems vibrant and diverse, the independence of its reporting is heavily compromised by the fact that many media outlets, especially TV channels, have close ties to government allies.
Under this authoritarian government led by Denis Sassou-Nguesso since 1997, self-censorship is expected and pressure, threats and sanctions are used when reporting concerns the president and his allies. The government exercises a great deal of influence over the appointment and dismissal of the heads of the state media, and the president himself appoints the head of the media regulator, the High Council for Freedom of Communication.
The laws on freedom of information and communication, on pluralism in public broadcasting, and on the regulation of the High Council for Freedom of Communication are supposed to ensure journalistic freedom. But, although favourable in theory, these laws are barely applied in practice and the arbitrary imprisonment of journalists continues. In December 2022, the High Council for Freedom of Communication suspended Vox TV for a week without identifying the content that prompted the suspension and without first interviewing the channel’s representatives. The head of Vox TV announced his departure a few days later.
Several leading media outlets, including the Brazzaville-based TV channels Top TV, MNTV and CB+, as well as DVS+ in Pointe Noire, have had to close for economic reasons in recent years, highlighting the precariousness of the media sector. Only the state-owned media receive state aid, while the economic prospects of privately owned media are severely constrained by the small size of the advertising market.
Journalists face real threats on a daily basis, especially when they criticise the government or interview opposition leaders. Reprisals include intimidation on social media, telephone threats, arbitrary arrests and imprisonment, and even expulsion or forced exile. Newspaper publisher Raymond Malonga was sentenced to six months in prison in 2021 as a result of a defamation suit by the wife of the head of the country’s security services. The case was similar to that of another newspaper director who, two years prior, was arbitrarily detained for 18 months.