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New faces, new propaganda in Congo’s new press

June 30, 1997

KINSHASA, Congo (AP) _ For years, Wivine Moleka was one of the most visible television news anchors in Kinshasa, dishing out daily doses of government propaganda on what was then called the Voice of Zaire.

When Laurent Kabila’s rebel army marched into Kinshasa last month and drove out President Mobutu Sese Seko’s government, it also drove Moleka and more than a dozen other TV anchors off the air.

Moleka and others who lost high-profile on-air jobs call it an attempt to replace one brand of propaganda with another on state-run TV and radio, the primary source of information for most Congolese.

Kabila’s government calls it an effort to reverse the effects of Mobutu’s 31-year dictatorship, when the ``news″ was mainly an instrument for portraying Mobutu in a flattering light no matter what the circumstances. Without question, the coverage now is less fawning than it used to be.

``We’ve won the war of arms, but we’re still fighting a political war,″ said Jose Kajangwa, the director-general of television and one of several new media chiefs appointed by the Information Ministry.

Television and radio aren’t the only media to have changed since Kabila won his eight-month war against Mobutu and changed the country’s name to Congo.

The state-run news agency has a new director, Andre Ojate, who first held the job four years ago but was fired by Mobutu’s government for alleged opposition sympathies. Today, he is trying to revive the long-moribund agency, whose neglected building reeks of urine from leaking toilets and whose bureaus have neither telephone nor telex lines to maintain contact with Kinshasa.

The dozens of daily newspapers retain their freewheeling style but have had to adjust to life without Mobutu, the man most of them loved to hate. Now they hate Kabila.

But the biggest changes are those within the dilapidated studios of state-run broadcasting, whose headquarters was one of the first buildings seized when the rebels entered Kinshasa on May 17.

Moleka and Francine Mokoko, another news anchor bumped off the air, say they and other journalists from Mobutu’s northern Equator region were told that the public did not want to see Mobutu-era faces on the news.

They were given off-air assignments such as reporting and editing and replaced with _ they say _ people from Kabila’s southern Kasai region.

``It’s a kind of hunt of journalists,″ said Mokoko, who said her new bosses have repeatedly accused her of trying to sabotage the Kabila government and of being in secret contact with the ousted Mobutu.

``It’s like being in a prison, with somebody always watching what you do, who you speak to,″ she said.

Moleka said she welcomed Kabila’s victory over Mobutu at first, thinking it would let her work as an objective journalist _ rather than a puppet who said what the government wanted said. ``I’m disappointed, and I feel a bit deceived,″ she said.

Kajangwa dismissed their allegations of a witch hunt, but admitted an effort was under way to change the face of the TV and radio news.

``It’s well-known that a lot of the people working here were agents of Mobutu,″ Kajangwa said. ``We’re going to look at each case and then decide who is best in what jobs.″

There’s no question the TV news has improved, in style as well as substance.

The thrice-daily broadcasts, which once opened with footage of Mobutu in various displays of prowess, now begin with a spinning globe on the screen.

The studio backdrop, once a blank wall, has been replaced with a crude but colorful mural of the universe, complete with planets and stars, painted by a local artist nicknamed Picasso for his whimsical style.

Presenters who rarely got through a single news item without uttering the words ``His Excellency President Mobutu Sese Seko″ several times delivered Sunday’s afternoon news show with only one mention of Kabila, and no film of the president.

TV news also reported last week on protests by anti-Kabila forces loyal to opposition leader Etienne Tshisekedi. ``This was a considerable advance,″ said Ojate.

But critics, including Moleka and Mususa Kitenge, an editor at the news agency, say the coverage was slanted to focus on the violent protests by Tshisekedi supporters _ not the arrest of the opposition activist by Kabila’s soldiers, which prompted the protest.

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