Economic growth and consumer demand have led to an explosion of new private media organisations in post-war Angola. Several new weekly newspapers and glossy magazines have been launched and Angola now has a third private television channel, TV Zimbo, to rival the two state-owned, government-mouthpiece terrestrial stations run by Televisão Publica de Angola.
At first the new outlets were welcomed by those sick of the propagandist state media, but journalists and activists now say that although the number of media groups has increased, the space for dialogue has in fact shrunk. They warn that it will only get worse in the run-up to next year’s election.
Rafael Marques, a veteran Angolan journalist and anti-corruption campaigner, said: “You only have to look at the shareholders of these new groups. Those that are not owned directly by the state are owned by top government officials and generals, and they are controlling what is published and broadcast.
“These people also have a lot of control within the local economy and they can choose which companies to advertise with, making truly independent publications no longer viable.” He said it was a “hangover” from Angola’s Marxist past that the government felt it had to control information.
In the past year a number of previously outspoken newspapers, including Semanário Angolense and A Capital, have crumbled under financial pressure and sold out to private groups owned by people with direct links to the government or presidency. Several senior reporters and columnists from both publications were sacked. Earlier this month, three pages of A Capital went to the newsstands blank after an interview with outspoken academic Vicente Pinto de Andrade was pulled moments before deadline.
Similar moves are being made at TV Zimbo, the main shareholders in which are said to include Manuel Vicente, the chairperson of the state oil company, and a possible presidential candidate, General Manuel Hélder Vieira Dias Jr, who is also minister of state for the military; and General Leopoldino Fragoso do Nascimento, the former head of communication in the presidency.
According to reports a newly appointed Brazilian management team at TV Zimbo is introducing censorship measures, including fewer live interviews to allow editing before transmission, a ban on guests from opposition political parties and a directive to journalists to avoid stories that could reflect badly on the government.
Elias Isaac, the director of the Angola programme of the Open Society Initiative for Southern Africa, told the Mail & Guardian: “The government is becoming more and more aggressive in its agenda of control.”
Marques, who has spent time in prison for a newspaper article criticising Angola’s president of 32 years, José Eduardo dos Santos, said another tactic was to co-opt critical journalists by either giving them money to censor themselves or offering them jobs in state media.
Those who resist these offers can find themselves targeted in other ways. At a recent anti-government demonstration several reporters were injured in scuffles that were believed to have been started by undercover police operatives trying to discredit the protestors and ensure that footage of the event did not get distributed.
Several journalists have also fallen foul of Angola’s draconian criminal defamation law, which offers no truth defence.
In March, several international organisations, including Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Project Journalists, questioned the fairness of a trial that led to the imprisonment of Armando Chicoca, a Voice of America reporter who wrote supposedly defamatory articles about a judge sexually harassing his domestic worker. Chicoca, was released after paying a $2 400 fine.
But this month William Tonet, the editor of the weekly newspaper Folha 8, known for its anti-government views and no-holds-barred criticism of the president, was told to pay $100 000 or serve a year behind bars for his allegations about corruption by three top Angolan army generals.