An estimated 200 Congolese journalists marched to the National Assembly in Kinshasa on Friday to show their outrage over reports that supporters of incumbent President Joseph Kabila have physically and verbally abused members of the press.
The marchers converged on the assembly bearing audio recordings of crude insults that a member of the chamber apparently hurled at journalist Eugénie Ntumba during an aborted interview this month, according to local journalists. In the recording, a man identified as assembly member Yves Kisombe accused the journalist of not disclosing the purpose of her call before asking a question. "What is the name of this whore? What is the name of this bitch who has dared to disrespect me?" the man shouted in the recording. Kisombe, a member of Kabila's ruling People's Party for Reconstruction and Democracy, claimed the audiotape was fabricated, although his party formally apologized to the journalist.
Inside the halls of the assembly, a delegation of journalists led by Polydor Muboyayi, head of the self-regulatory group Observatory of Congolese Media, met with Speaker Evariste Boshab, according to news reports. "We don't understand how those who hold seats in parliament, who have debated gender [issues], could utter such terms," news accounts quoted Muboyayi as telling Boshab.
Muboyayi also urged authorities to ensure the safety of journalists before and after November presidential elections, noting that several journalist murders have gone unsolved since 2005. "During this delicate period, we do not want journalists to be the grass stomped by fighting elephants," he was quoted as saying.
Responding to the marchers, Boshab said he had not listened to recordings of the Ntumba interview but had referred the matter to the public prosecutor. Marchers walked out on the speaker when he addressed concerns about journalist safety by urging the news media to report impartially.
Boshab's own credibility on press freedom issues suffered a recent blow. Just a week prior to the march, Boshab's security guards attacked cameraman Serge Kembila of Radio Télévision Groupe l'Avenir (RTGA) for filming empty seats during a ruling party congress at a Kinshasa stadium, the local press freedom group Journaliste En Danger reported. The group quoted Kembila as saying that security guards pounced on him and confiscated his footage.
Ironically, Kembila's station openly supports Kabila, and Ntumba's station is owned by the president's appointed prime minister, Adolphe Kizito. An August 2 editorial in L'Avenir, the sister newspaper to RTGA, perhaps best explained what is happening: "During this period, media is in high demand. But it is also the scapegoat of politicians."