In recent years in Guinea-Bissau, a sharp deterioration of the security environment for journalists, combined with political and economic pressures have created a tough environment for journalism.
The media are relatively diverse but heavily polarised. The state-owned media, which are subject to strong influence from the government, consist of the national TV broadcaster, which struggles to cover the entire country, the national radio, the newspaper No Pintcha and the Guinea-Bissau press agency. There are also 88 privately owned and community radio stations, privately owned newspapers, and a small number of online media.
Journalists have to deal with chronic political instability – as shown yet again in a coup attempt in February 2022 – and are subjected to constant pressure. In recent years, President Umaro Sissoco Embaló has threatened to close several radio stations for not having proper operating licences and has referred to journalists as “mouths for hire”, while the head of the national TV channel suspended a journalist for failing to interview the president while he was participating in a football tournament. In January 2022, the authorities ordered Capital FM, which is one of the country’s most popular radio stations and which supports the opposition, to stop broadcasting on the grounds that it had not paid an annual tax.
The constitution guarantees freedom of the press and stipulates that it must be free from economic and political interests, but the reality is otherwise. However, a press law does exist and journalists have a recognised status. Guinea-Bissau does not have a law guaranteeing the public’s access to information.
The advertising market is weak, and newspaper sales are minimal. Some journalists will not cover events unless the organiser pays them. On some radio stations, many programmes are broadcast only upon payment of a fee. Although supposedly in better financial shape, the state-owned media also have economic problems. Many journalists, who earn an average of 50 euros a month, find themselves forced to affiliate with a political party in order to survive. The heads of most community and privately-owned radio stations, which are all in financial straits, were threatened with imprisonment if they did not pay their licence fee, which is the equivalent of 380 euros.
The media are often forced into self-censorship, especially on topics considered sensitive, such as drug trafficking. Embezzlement and corruption, which also affect journalists, are among the issues that get little to no coverage.
Journalists and media outlets are often the targets of physical attacks, as in February 2022, when the premises of Capital FM and the home of one of its journalists were subjected to armed assaults. In February 2021, a journalist covering a student protest was attacked and briefly detained by police, who destroyed his phone and recording device. In March 2021, António Aly Silva, a freelance journalist who regularly and openly criticises the president, was abducted, beaten, and abandoned on one of the capital’s main streets by unknown assailants. Radio stations, especially outspoken ones, are often threatened with suspension.