Radio Ecclesia: Ownership Between Bishops and Rulers
The Angolan Catholic-run Radio Ecclesia has been receiving financial support from the Ministry of Information, even though the government has not yet granted legal status to the radio station. The station was given back to the Catholic Church in 1997 after being banned 20 years earlier.
Just last year, Radio Ecclesia simultaneously fired several journalists and cancelled programs without reviewing their ratings. The current management is facing increasing numbers of accusations of censorship.
Maka Angola has had access to two documents corroborating a withdrawal order by the Ministry of Finance, to the value of five million kwanzas (US$50,000), for deposit in an account owned by the radio station, in the Banco de Fomento de Angola. The deposit is described as “funding for Radio Ecclesia from the Ministry of Information”.
The managing director of Radio Ecclesia, father Quintino Kandanji, informed Maka Angola that he has only received sporadic support from the Ministry of Information. “I put in a request [to the ministry] for five million kwanzas for the radio station party at the end of last year; that was all”.
In turn, the national director of Information at the ministry, Rui Vasco, confirmed to Maka Angola that funds were approved on a regular basis for Radio Ecclesia, without specifying amounts.
Rui Vasco explains that the Ministry does not give monthly support to Radio Ecclesia. “It depends on budgetary constraints and responses to requests we receive”. He further comments that some private media outlets refuse government funding altogether, as they believe it could compromise their editorial independence. “We are not giving assistance here, we are doing our State duty”, adds Rui Vasco.
The director of Radio Despertar (Wake up Radio), Emanuel Malaquias, a station run by the opposition party UNITA, categorically denies receiving State money. “We get absolutely no support from the government. If all private radio stations are entitled to funding, I’m going to make an appointment with the minister to ask for our entitlements”, says Emanuel Malaquias.
Alexandre Solombe, the representative of the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA-Angola), deplores the fact that the government, “still has not defined the legal criteria for providing support to private media organs, in compliance with Article 15 of the Media Law”.
According to Alexandre Solombe, the criteria fall within the regulations of the Media Law: “Since 2006, the Head of Government, President José Eduardo dos Santos, has been violating the terms of Article 87 of that law, i.e., defining the regulations governing the law within a maximum period of 90 days after its implementation”. The president implemented the law on April 28, 2006.
Radio Ecclesia’s editorial line
Radio Ecclesia was banned by the government in 1977, and only began to broadcast on FM again 20 years later.
It became the leading broadcaster in Luanda, though it was not permitted to broadcast beyond the confines of the capital city. At the height of its popularity in 2004, the then minister of Social Communication, Hendrick Vaal Neto, accused Radio Ecclesia of being a “terrorist broadcaster”. Listeners adopted the station as “the people’s radio”, and the Church proudly claimed that its station was “the trustworthy radio”.
The story is different now. Mass sackings of journalists and profound changes to the editorial line have given birth to several theories as to what can have happened to the radio station that was once so popular.
Last August and December, the management of Radio Ecclesia sacked over 10 staff, including Abílio Cândido, Adriano Kubanga, Agostinho Gayeta, Hélder Luandino, Mayama Salazar, Manuel Augusto and Matilde Vanda. The radio station is currently operating with an editorial staff reduced to nine journalists. Management at the station names lack of funding and disciplinary problems as the reasons for the sackings. Some journalists contend that they were sacked because their criticism was a little too keen.
Pirate Radio or government’s broadcaster?
Government support for the Catholic broadcaster is also controversial in the sense that the State continues to not recognise the institution legally.
Father Quintino Kandanji states that the owner of the radio station, the Episcopal Conference of Angola and São Tomé (CEAST), has had discussions with the government on resolving the state of legal limbo in which the station finds itself.
“Radio Ecclesia does not even have public deeds. We have no articles of incorporation”, he declares.
Father Quintino Kandanji relates that, in his meetings with the Ministry of Justice and Human Rights, to deal with the station’s articles of incorporation, he was asked to produce a copy of the official Daily Gazette Diário da República showing the government decree that returned the station to the Catholic Church.
“But the government returned the station to the church without publishing the decision of the Council of Ministers in the Diário da República. This decree of confirmation was never published in the Diário da República”, explains the director of the broadcaster.
“We can’t even import equipment because we don’t have an official company licence”, he continues, adding that the radio station is still operating under a temporary licence: “We still have no official status”.
On February 18 and 19, 1992, the Council of Ministers discussed the matter of the “Decree Bill cancelling the decision that had nationalised Radio Ecclesia’s installations [in 1977]”, deciding then to return the installations to the Catholic Church. The government communicated its decision to the Catholic Church on February 26 of the same year, but the decree was never published in the Diário da República, which rendered it legally void.
Over a year later, on September 30, 1993, the then minister of Information, Hendrick Vaal Neto, released a dispatch authorising Radio Ecclesia “to transmit its programs on FM, Medium Wave and Short Wave”. The dispatch was equivalent to a licence, since it included the wording: “For all legal effects, this replaces the Temporary Licence”.
On the subject, the national director of Information, Rui Vasco, emphasises that MINCS “is working very well with CEAST to bring legal recognition to this process”.
From then until now, the government has demonstrated the ease with which it manipulates statute law, giving with one hand and taking back with the other. In other words, the government handed over <i>Radio Ecclesia</i> in the material sense, but retained it, as government property, in the legal sense.
Wake up Radio Despertar
Maka Angola investigated that Radio Despertar finds itself in a similar legal position to that of Radio Ecclesia.
“We tried to open a bank account, but it wasn’t possible since we have no public deeds”, reveals the assistant director of Radio Despertar, Anastácio Queirós Chilúvia.
In 2004, the Ministry of Information granted a temporary licence to Academia Politécnica Lda, the company that owns the radio station, “exclusively for the technical licensing of the installations and transmission system equipment of Radio Despertar by the relevant authority”. In turn, on December 22, 2004, this authority, the Angolan Institute of Telecommunications (INACOM), allocated the 91,0MHz frequency to Radio Despertar, in order to “not render invalid or cause delays to the manufacturing process of equipment needed to operate a radio station”.
According to the notice from INACOM from 2004, “the normal course of approval of the respective technical project, as well as the subsequent licensing of the referred station, remains dependent on additional clarification with regards to questions posed within a particular time-frame”.
On a material level, the government complied with the Peace Agreement, signed with UNITA, according to which Radio Despertar was to replace UNITA’s wartime radio, the Voz do Galo Negro (VORGAN: The Black Cockerel’s Voice), on a commercial basis and directed by a private company. However, the station still has no legal standing.
The people’s voice silenced
Besides the legal question, the government has presented either legal or technical arguments preventing the expansion of Radio Ecclesia’s signal to the provinces, through diocesan radio stations.
In previous years, various international institutions, some linked to the Catholic Church, have provided financial or material assistance, to the tune of several million dollars, towards the expansion of Radio Ecclesia into most of the 18 provinces.
Recently, in an interview with the weekly publication O País, the president of CEAST, Archbishop Gabriel Mbilingue, stated that the government’s reluctance to allow the Radio Ecclesia’s expansion to other provinces had to do with the prospect of live phone-in discussions.
“We are under no illusions, the live debates have always been a stumbling block”, the Archbishop explained.
“If there is any fear it is probably of this – those radio programs that interact directly with people on the street, and we have absolutely no control over that,” he added.
Since the appointment of Father Quintino Kandanji as Radio Ecclesia’s director in October 2011, journalists have begun to complain more often about incidences of direct censorship.
“While I was working as editor, Father Kandanji would often approach me with orders about what had to be censored. He offered no justification, but merely said, “That is inappropriate”, explains Agostinho Gayeta.
As an example, Agostinho Gayeta referred to an interview with the MISA- Angola representative, Alexandre Solombe, on the difficulties of exercising freedom of the press in Angola. “Father [Kandanji] uses no subterfuge. He censors directly. He went to the editorial staff and said ‘this passes and that doesn’t,’ end of story”, explains the speaker.
Where management is concerned, the director of information of the radio station is Father Artur Handa Savita, while the journalist Manuel Vieira is editor in chief of the editorial staff.
“We hold regular meetings. Some journalists bring their topics and their agendas. That doesn’t work for us”, justifies Father Kandanji.
In practice, “normally, I listen to the journalist’s piece and I say what needs to be cut and why. Some journalists thank me later. We are guided by our conscience of service. We preserve the image that we serve the public”, says the director of Radio Ecclesia. His justification is: “People only say that the priest sacked journalists and cut this and that. There are hidden interests concerning which we may not yield. Whether it is the opposition, powerful influences or civil society, there are interests that could undermine the values the church seeks to preserve”.
The priest complains that nobody remembers to mention that he has also been criticised by officials at the ministry of Information “for keeping the microphones open to listeners on the Saturday debates”.
“During the elections [of 2012], the bishops asked me to unplug the phones [of the radio station] so that listeners could not participate live on air. I said no, they had to leave the microphones open and allow the people to speak, and we left the microphones open”, he reveals.
The list of programs aired on Radio Ecclesia has also undergone significant cuts and changes. Journalists and management disagree on the reasons for this.
One of the programs to be cut is “Without a Doubt”, presented by Manuel Vieira, on the problems crippling the capital city of Luanda, according to its inhabitants. The program went out on Tuesdays and Thursdays. “The listeners were extremely critical”, admits a journalist who preferred to remain anonymous.
“We will be cutting more programs from the list”, announces Father Quintino Kandanji. For him, “programs need to have continuity and a pastoral theme, by order of the bishops”.
With regard to “Without a Doubt”, the manager admits that “it was the program with the highest listener ratings of the radio station, sponsored by the BBC Trust”.
“When I took over [as director], I asked the BBC Trust to make sure that editorial control of the program was more balanced. The program came to an end”, he contends.
One analyst summarises the position of the Catholic-run broadcaster with an appropriate metaphor: “Radio Ecclesia is the short cape of the Catholic Church. It either covers the head or the feet”.