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OpEdNews Op Eds    H3'ed 4/17/18

Democracy Needs a Free Press -- Even in the Congo

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Generation Determinee
Generation Determinee
(Image by Bernard Katompa)
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My country, the Democratic Republic of Congo, faces a dire paradox. It is among the richest countries in the world in terms of natural resources. Meanwhile it has been ranked by WorldAtlas as the second poorest country on earth with per capita GDP at just $773 per year.

There are many factors that contribute to this conundrum. I am president of Generation Determinee, a robust popular movement that seeks to address those issues and play a transformative role. A dramatic restructuring is urgently needed. A literal turnaround must be skillfully accomplished democratically.

For a democratic transition of this magnitude it is mandatory that we address the state of information freedom in the DRC. An informed electorate is a fundamental requirement for democratic processes.

But the condition of our media is indeed dire in itself. Reporters without Borders explains: "Freedom of information is constantly violated in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Journalists are exposed to threats, physical violence, arrest, prolonged detention, and even murder."

The road to freedom of the press is a bumpy one, littered with obstructions that would be discouraging to many. But it is a road that I believe we must travel. The quest for a free press is a journey upon which we must embark.

Presently journalists and media managers work within an oppressive and demeaning system. By world standards the level of professionalism is extremely low.

That reality, however, gives us a place to start. Even within the currently tragic media milieu, there is room for journalists to play a more constructive role. That could happen if only they had a way for gaining greater professional skills.

That is where I wish to begin the journey. I am calling for a sweeping program to develop a more productive media culture here in the DRC. That can be accomplished through offering intensive training and coaching opportunities to journalists and media managers.

As the quality of journalism improves, the people of my country will gain unprecedented empowerment. Better information will give our people a clearer view of their country's current plight and its future potential. That in turn will bestow upon them the ability to make more informed political choices.

There is also an economy-wide dimension to this. In countries that have a flourishing media sector, the entire economy receives a benefit. It comes from the media's ability to bring buyers and sellers together.

Companies that offer consumer-oriented products and services can connect with prospective buyers through media advertising. Similarly, consumers benefit from the advertising since it gives them knowledge of what is available and provides them an opportunity to compare competing offerings.

For that reason, growing a consumer-oriented media sector goes hand in hand with the overall development of the nation's economy. They need each other.

The volume of media-advertising expenditures at present is unlikely to fully support a viable and completely self-supporting media sector.

This predicament is not our destiny, however. There is reason for hope. According to KPMG: "A growing population in the DRC also drives economic growth from a consumer-spending perspective." That is exactly what is needed for true press freedom to emerge.

While that economic growth is maturing, though, there is a need for supplemental media assistance. Actually, that need is currently being fulfilled, but not in a good way.

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Bernard Katompa is president of Generaton Determinee, a movement dedicated to promoting good governance for the Democratic Republic of Congo. He has declared his candidacy for president of his country in order to carry out his organization's (more...)

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Democracy Needs a Free Press -- Even in the Congo

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