Africa, Headlines

MEDIA-ANGOLA: Tough Times For Journalists

Mercedes Sayagues

MALANGE, Oct 4 1999 (IPS) - Isaias Soares does not walk alone on the streets of Malange. He doesn’t go out at night at all. He is afraid of the security forces.

Soares is a radio reporter in a besieged provincial capital in war-ravaged Angola. His crime was to interview the local representative of the UN World Food Programme (WFP), who said police and soldiers were stealing food aid from starving peasants after distributions. The interview was broadcast in August by the Voice of America (VoA) in Angola.

Other aid workers in Malange testify that such theft occurs. To minimize risks, nuns advise people to go home in groups after food distribution.

Soon after the broadcast, Soares was briefly der. Governors run provincial capitals ruthlessly as their private fiefs. Independent views are not tolerated. “Provincial journalists are the most vulnerable,” says the director of radio Ecclesia in Luanda, Antonio Jaka.

With most provincial capitals cut off from road transport, accessible only by air, and with permanent tight police controls at the airport and access roads, journalists are virtual prisoners. A governor can easily impede a provincial reporter from leaving town.

Soares first got into trouble with the governor of Malange, Flavio Fernandes in 1997. The governor’s office baee-lancing for VoA after he filed several reports criticizing the governor.

Soares, a thin, intense man, 30, with a flowinhout a witness.

“Angolan journalists are not free to report on among many recent episodes of intimidation of the press.

His colleague, William Toneto, was detained early on Saturday by Angola’s secret police, according to fellow jouEduardo Dos Santos which his newspaper reprinted.

In the last six months, two Angolan journalists had their passports confiscated and 16 reported police harassment for their stories. Since 1993, seven have been killed in unexplained circumstances.

In early August, journalists from the Catholic radio Ecclesia in Luanda were detained for nine hours, the station searched and its diskettes confiscated, after the radio re-broadcast a BBC (British Broadcasting Corporation) interview with ssive era.

“The message is not to talk too much about certain issues but we will not be intimidated,” says Jaka.

In May, BBC correspondent Lara Pawson was manhandled by three men as she got into her car in downtown Luanda. They told her it was because of reports on forced conscription of youth for the army. There are many more such examples.

In mid-August, Joao Faria, political editor of Angora, was involved in a rear collision with a car driven by ttended a party for African legislators.

Whether motivated by politics or by theft, these murders show how little life is worth in Luanda, one of Africa’s most violent capitals.

Journalists work in an environment where murders remain uninvestigated and human rights abuses unpunished.

Angola has never enjoyed full press freedom. Ae return to war, these meaningful gains are once again threatened by censorship and intimidation,” says author Alex Vines in “Angola Unravels”, a recent report by Human Rights Watch.

In a recent letter, the Angolan union of journalists complained to the Attorney General that the National Directorate of Criminal Investigations applies undue and illegal pressure on journalists.

By law and by intimidation, the Angolan press .

The national radio and TV stations are propaganda vehicles. It can be crude, like the clips flighted early this year after the evening newscasts, showing Savimbi as a war criminal, in a Wanted poster. It can be subtle, like this month’s clip: soft-focus images of unity and team work, under romantic music, like in a soft drink ad.

Naturally the government won’t relinquish its control of the airwaves. Nor will it tolerate dissent. Intimidati “Attacks against the rights of freedom of expression and association have undermined the defense of other rights. They also delay peace and reconciliation by obstructing access to accurate information and the airing of different points of view.”

“There are some lines we can’t cross because we could be killed, jailed, harassed or fined,” says Mario Paiva, a senior journalist. “We don’t enjoy full freedom of expression.”

In the past, Paiva has received death threats iced with grants, loans and trip abroad. The ruling party, led by the presidential clique, is an octopus of many tentacles. What it cannot intimidate or repress, it tries to buy.

Paiva notes that both warring sides dislike press freedom. “We are squashed between the two; threatened by the government for reporting on Unita while Unita complains we are unfair to it.”

The handful of journalists and media that resist, run risks, as Soares and Jaka well know. “Why are we arrested for informing people? We have done nothing wrong,” says Jaka. ‘ no exception.

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