Brazzaville, January 2021 – Strengthening the ability of independent media to support fair and peaceful elections was the focus of a 28 January 2021 seminar convened by the EU Delegation to Congo (Brazzaville), with support from Media4Democracy – just weeks before the country holds presidential elections on 21 March. Opening the seminar, EU Ambassador Raul Mateus Paula stressed the importance of the role media play in contributing to peaceful elections and expressed the hope that the event would contribute to a better shared understanding of ways to achieve this.
The seminar was held in cooperation with the country’s official media regulatory body, the Conseil Supérieur de la Liberté de Communication (CSLC), and used a hybrid model of in-situ and remote participation to accommodate COVID-19 precautions. This format allowed local media, official representatives and international actors to share and discuss their experiences. Regional experts via remote platforms presented perspectives and best practice for strengthening media in challenging electoral contexts in a variety of African countries.
At the outset of the day-long session, Dr. Stergios Varvarousis, Deputy Head of the EU Delegation, noted that the results of free and fair elections have to be honest, transparent and credible. In this respect, the media is a key factor.
This is in a country where most media platforms are closely connected to the government and where significant trends of media self-censorship and limited access to information have been exacerbated during election periods. In previous elections government restrictive activities such as the disconnection of the Internet during the 2016 presidential poll have prevented journalists and activists from verifying and challenging electoral results.
A representative of the media regulator CSLC started the morning sessions with a summary of developments in the regulatory environment in recent years as well as ethical and professional codes for journalists which govern all their activities, including election coverage. During an afternoon panel discussion, the President of CSLC, Philippe Mvouo, while noting that the fundamental skills and ethics required for journalism in general were no different in election times, enumerated the basic principles for the highest standards of professionalism in election coverage.
Local journalists in the audience were able to question representatives of the CSLC to clarify its role, including some lively exchanges of views as to the extent of the regulatory body’s mandate over coverage of political issues.
Throughout the day, media experts joined online from Burundi, Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), France, Senegal and Tunisia, reviewing a range of efforts in other African countries that had contributed to strengthening the media role in fair elections. These included long-term actions in DRC to strengthen electoral cooperation and understanding between regulatory bodies, media, civil society and politicians and an international broadcaster’s experience in covering elections in Congo. Other speakers gave examples of media self-regulation in Anglophone Africa, codes of conduct for social and online media users in Tunisia, coordinated election coverage by independent radio stations in Burundi and how improved professional and conflict sensitive journalism practices have contributed to mitigating virulent political polarization and violence during elections in Central African Republic, Chad, Ivory Coast, Mali and Niger. A member of Senegal’s media regulatory institution, online from Dakar, described the broad scope of the body’s activities, the statutes which guarantee its independence and its contribution to ensuring election candidates have a level playing field in the media.
Following the seminar, EU Ambassador Mateus Paula, in a 5 February interview with Les Dépêches De Brazzaville, said that the EU Delegation had wanted to contribute to this election by organizing the January media seminar. Working alongside the CSLC, the seminar had aimed to contribute to the shared goal of a peaceful, free, fair election, which would be transparent and credible both in terms of voter awareness and media coverage in accordance with professional and ethical standards.
The Ambassador also noted that beyond the electoral process itself, it is important that the future government will tackle deep reforms to ensure the transition to a green economy in Congo, improve fiscal transparency, fight corruption and continue to reinforce public governance and democratic institutions.