Community radio stations contribute to peace in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo
In a country like the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), where our human right to press freedom is violated on a daily basis, it is far from easy to be an independent media organisation or journalist. Our partner CORACON is located in North Kivu (in the east of DRC) which has been, and still is, heavily affected by army violence. We spoke to Jacques Kakule Vagheni, coordinator at CORACON, who will explain the importance of their existence and how they face the ongoing challenges.
CORACON is a collective of independent radio and television stations that contribute to peace-building and the development of local communities. With their network of more than sixty media partners, they are able to cover a big part of the region of NorthKivu, reaching both the big and more easy-to-access cities (such as Goma, Beni, Butembo) but also smaller territories (such as Nyiragongo and Walikale).‘’Creating a community with independent radio stations is important in a country where democracy is fragile. Our work can be seen as an opportunity for citizens to take control and tell leaders to improve governance and to better serve their people.’’ Jacques continues: ‘’Professional media are needed to achieve this. They take the sensitive context of war into account and feel the responsibility to avoid making things worse than they already are.’’
DRC is a country suffering from grave human rights violations, political instability and continuous internal conflicts. The political and humanitarian turmoil especially in the Eastern part of the country dates back to past wars such as the Second and First Congo war, and the exodus of Rwandese entering DRC after the genocide in 1994. The military attacks make the situation in eastern Congo unpredictable and unsafe.
‘’Insecurity has become permanent in North Kivu, mainly as a result of militias and pressure from certain authorities such as the military and the police."
‘’Insecurity has become permanent in North Kivu, mainly as a result of militias and pressure from certain authorities such as the military and the police. This means that journalists often work in fear. Fear of being physically attacked. And they have reason to do so. There have been cases of murder and kidnapping in the past,’’ says Jacques.
Unfortunately, these extreme conditions are not the only challenge that media and journalists are facing. The economic uncertainty also affects their work. The government does not provide any support. Jacques tells us: ‘’Revenue from journalism is very low, preventing public radio stations from operating normally. As a result, few journalists are paid and most work on a voluntary basis. Without money, it is difficult to produce quality programmes in the long term.’’
The importance of their work
Fortunately, the dire situation does not stop CORACON. In fact, it highlights the importance of their work, which gives them a lot of motivation to keep doing what they do. Local journalists and media professionals have little knowledge of how to report ethically and professionally in this very volatile political and social context in North Kivu. Not following the code of conduct of journalism can also get them into trouble; being accused of being partial, inaccurate or irresponsible.
"With the community radio stations we support, we have managed to develop an alternative voice that is not censored by the authorities."
The capacity of local radios in terms of qualitative radio production is very limited, with one of the reasons being a lack of IT tools and technology. This has been a focus in Free Press Unlimited’s partnership with CORACON: to build the capacity and knowledge of local radio stations and journalists. Jacques tells us: ‘’Together with our partners we introduced our member radio stations to the use of IT tools in news processing. This makes their work easier and increases their daily output. Last year we have also trained 267 journalists in radio production techniques, and ethics and safety. I am proud that they are currently doing a great job.''
‘’We are also proud to have succeeded in engaging the people of North Kivu in the responsible fight against epidemics (Ebola and Covid-19), and in the process of peaceful coexistence. With the community radio stations we support, we have managed to develop an alternative voice that is not censored by the authorities, unlike the media run directly by the government. Any citizen who wants to can express their views through a radio station and that is a very good thing.’’ says Jacques.
In order to maintain their existence and mission in the best possible way, CORACON needs more fundraising capacity. ‘’There is still a huge need for support for community radio stations. With more support, we can run more programmes and have an even greater impact on media work in North Kivu.’’ He continues: ‘’Technical capacity would also help us. To support community radio stations, we need an edge in journalistic and management skills. Regular training is therefore necessary.’’
Reliable information is a must
CORACON sees providing reliable information as the foundation of quality journalism. To achieve this, they frequently enter into discussions with the government. Such advocating ensures that journalists have access to public domain information.
However, they also highlight the importance of access to reliable information and independent journalism for DRC citizens. ‘’We spread awareness messages to show the public how to use their power. People have the right to have access to reliable and truthful information and they are allowed to fight for that.’’ says Jacques.
The military attacks make the situation in eastern Congo extremely difficult and dangerous for civilians. In a place where many people are struggling to survive, there are journalists trying to provide their fellow civilians with reliable information and expose the gravity of the inhuman situation to the rest of the world.
That takes strength and courage. Free Press Unlimited is more than grateful to collaborate with a partner like CORACON to build a better democratic future for North Kivu.