ANGOLA: Rights group condemn press freedoms as window dressing
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> Subject: ANGOLA: Rights group condemn press freedoms as window dressing
> Date: Thu, 16 Nov 2006 04:57:28 -0700
> ANGOLA: Rights group condemn press freedoms as window dressing
> [This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
> LUANDA, 16 November (IRIN) - As Angola began voter registration this week, ahead of
> its first elections in over a decade, Human Rights Watch (HRW) urged the government
> to do more to ensure that the press, essential to the validity of the poll, is able
> to operate more freely.
> A new media law passed in May promised much-needed reforms but failed to protect
> press freedoms adequately, the watchdog's report, 'Still Not Fully Protected: Rights
> to Freedom of Expression and Information under Angola's New Press Law', said on
> "Unless the Angolan government brings its press law up to international standards,
> freedom of the press in the election period will be compromised," Peter Takirambudde,
> Africa director at HRW, said in a press release. "The government urgently needs to
> approve further legislation to fully implement reforms already set out in its new
> Press Law."
> Voter registration started on Wednesday and is set to run until June next year,
> meaning that Angola's first ballot since 1992 - which has already been delayed
> repeatedly - could theoretically take place in 2007.
> Improvements to the press law included the elimination of the state monopoly over
> television, paving the way for the emergence of private broadcasters, but the
> licensing procedures were too bureaucratic and largely subject to the discretion of
> government, HRW said. The law also defined criminal conduct by journalists in unclear
> and sweeping terms, established "excessive" penalties for transgressions and still
> criminalised defamation.
> Regulations explaining how the law would work in practice would help. "It's not just
> the law that's important, it is also the implementation of the law. Until there is a
> complete picture the press doesn't know how to act," one political analyst, who asked
> not to be named, told IRIN.
> "The law guarantees certain freedoms but in the provinces newspapers are seized if
> the local administration doesn't like what they say and journalists get called in to
> see the governor if they don't like what they read or hear. These kinds of
> restrictions are outside the law but routinely happen," the source added.
> State-owned media currently dominates the flow of information in Angola, especially
> in the provinces outside Luanda.
> Radio is a powerful medium in a country where nearly 40 percent of the population is
> illiterate, but only the state's Radio Nacional de Angola broadcasts nationally.
> Despite assurances from the government that the Catholic Church's Radio Ecclesia
> could also transmit across Angola, it has not yet been allowed to set up transmitters
> enabling it to do so.
> Media watchers say a lack of press freedom is likely to be a problem in ensuring a
> plurality of information reaches all voters. "The whole population needs to know what
> is going on with elections, but what is happening is that only the official message
> will reach much of the country," Pedro Neto, president of the Media Institute of
> Southern Africa (MISA) in Angola, told IRIN.
> "This means no other opinions and information will reach most parts of the country.
> But we are trying, through the regulations of the new law, to see if we are able to
> improve the situation," he added.
> Since Angola's 27-year civil war ended in 2002, the oil-rich country has enjoyed an
> investment boom, and the government has rolled out an ambitious reconstruction plan.
> When elections are finally held, the main political rival to the ruling MPLA party,
> led by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, will be the former rebel movement, UNITA.
> However, many questions about the ballot are unanswered, including whether Dos Santos
> will run as the MPLA candidate, whether presidential and legislative ballots will be
> held simultaneously, and when the vote will actually take place.
> Observers fear that if the media is not given proper license to operate in the period
> running up to the poll, its legitimacy could be affected. "Without real freedom of
> the press, it would be hard to consider an election free, fair and transparent," said
> the political analyst.
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