Monday, January 12, 2009

Amid Economic Boom, Private Media Grows in Angola

LUANDA 9 January 2009 Sapa-AFP


After years of state domination, private newspapers, radio stations and most recently a television channel are shaking up Angola's media landscape, but face doubts about their independence.

Media Nove (New Media) is the main force behind Angola's
communication revolution, launching TV Zimbo, Radio Mais, the weekly paper O Pais and the glossy monthly Chocolate.

The group is also reported to be planning a weekly economic paper and longer term, a daily newspaper.

The products are slick and youthful, with a heavy Portuguese
influence, catering to the middle class that is slowly emerging after 27 years of civil war.

Radio Mais is the first radio station in Luanda to offer much-needed traffic updates. While state-owned Radio Nacional de Angola reads out funeral announcements, Radio Mais broadcasts "shout outs" from friends.

O Pais comes with a free glossy magazine, Vida (Life), and has pink financial pages and restaurant reviews, while TV Zimbo sells itself as "offering news to the people about people."

"Our objective was to create something absolutely different," Luis Fernando, general director at O Pais, told AFP.

"The private media here in Angola was taking a certain direction and we felt that this was not showing the real Angola. We know there are problems but we don't have to show that all the time and we should look too at how we can get better."

The longer-running private media were weekly news magazines like Semanario Angolense, Folha 8 and Agora.

For years they were the only voice of opposition against more than three decades of rule by the MPLA (Popular Movement for the Liberation of Angola) and, some say, were targeted by the government for daring to speak the truth.

Part of this truth is that while oil-rich Angola's economy grew by 16 percent last year, more than two thirds of the population still live on less than two dollars a day.

A number of journalists have been arrested in Angola over the years for allegations of defamation against government ministers and court cases continue today.

Freedom of expression is enshrined in Angola's constitution but few would say Angola had a free press.

"Independent weeklies have been struggling on for years trying to survive financially and afraid of legal action," said Lisa Rimli, of campaign group Human Rights Watch.

Angola's only daily and nationally distributed newspaper remains the state-run Jornal de Angola, a government mouthpiece, while state radio and television have been accused of bias towards the MPLA.

Albino Carlos, general director of Luanda's journalism training school CEFEJOR, believes more new newspapers expand press freedom.

"Having these new media outlets is a very good thing for Angola because it is increasing diversity and democracy," he said.

"We are developing as a country, economically, socially,
democratically and so the social communication sector must develop too."

While many applaud the emergence of Angola's new media, some urge caution.

"There is a lot of talk about Media Nove especially about where its money is coming from," Human Rights Watch's Rimli said.

"Some people are saying it's from people close to the president and that the papers might not be as free as they appear," she said.

Rafael Marques, an Angolan journalist who spent over a month in prison for allegedly defaming a member of government, also doubts the independence of the new outlets.

"It's hard to be an independent journalist and be critical in
Angola, that's why there are so few investigative journalists," he told AFP.

"I don't believe these new media outlets are independent. You only have to look at where their money comes from."

Indira Patricio, TV Zimbo's co-head of programming, denies any editorial censorship.

"We are free, that's our point, that's our main goal - to be able to transmit all we have in terms of information," she said. "If we start hiding information, there's no point of having a new television station."

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