State media dominate in Angola; the reach of independent newspapers and broadcasters is limited. “Insulting” the republic or the president is a punishable offence. Investigative journalists are regularly intimidated, arrested and covered with libel charges, which can result in very heavy fines or imprisonment. There are also threats, including against relatives, burglaries in journalists’ homes, attacks on editorial offices and travel bans. Reports of human rights violations, corruption, abuse of power and protests are particularly unwelcome.
In order to understand the current political situation in Angola, one will have to deal with the recent history of the country (chronology). After the colonial war against Portugal, which began in 1964, Angola gained independence in 1975. But practically with the solemn declaration of independence the fight broke out among the competing liberation movements, which quickly became the west-eastern proxy war, with South Africa and the USA on the UNITA side and Cuba on the MPLA ruling side. Only after 27 years could this conflict, which had escalated into a civil war, be ended. More than 40 years of conflict with three wars mean a heavy legacy, which still burdens the development of the country today.
A Country Study: Angola” provides detailed information on the individual historical epochs of the country up to the end of the 1980s. More recent books on modern Angolan history – on “Continuity and Change in Angola” – have been discussed by Alex Vines of Chathamhouse.
The Angolan media are largely under state control. For example, the only daily newspaper, the Jornal de Angola, which appears in Luanda with a circulation of around 50,000 copies, and the largest weekly Correio de Samana. Radio RNA (Radio Nacional de Angola, live listening) and television TPA (Televisão Pública de Angola) are also under state control and regulation.
For a long time, the only source of news from Angola was the state news agency Angop, founded in 1978, which also operates an English-language service.
The new constitution also reformulated the press law in 1991, allowing freedom of the press and opinion and thus the establishment of independent media. These include the private radio stations Luanda Antena Comercial, the church-based station Rádio Ecclesia and Radio Despertar, which emerged from the UNITA station VORGAN in 2006. Weekly newspapers are Folha 8 (Folha 8 on Facebook), Jornal Agora (Agora on Twitter), Novo Jornal, O País, Expansão, Actual Fax, a fax service founded in 1995, and the Internet portal AngoNotícias. Luanda is reported by the Internet portal Luanda Digital, Cabinda by the website ibinda.com. An Internet portal operated by the Angolan diaspora is club-k, a forum for critical intellectuals that has good information channels and repeatedly uncovers political scandals.
Many of these magazines and journals have gradually been bought up by dubious companies, most of them hiding people close to the government. For example, the MPLA is trying to bring the seemingly illustrious magazine landscape into line, a form of hidden censorship. With a starting capital of 70 million US dollars, it is easy for the media group Media Nova to maintain magazines such as O Páis, Vida, Radio Mais and the TV channel TV Zimbo. The company’s shareholders include three government advisors. In June 2010, the previously unknown company Media Investments announced the acquisition of the weekly newspapers Seminário Angolense, Novo Jornal and O Capital. This group of companies is also close to the government. Semanário Angolense was finally forced to close its doors at the beginning of 2016 by the decision of its new owners, a new farewell to the diversity of the press.
Solidarity with William Tonet
After the Agora newspaper, known for its criticism of the government, was taken over by the dubious Nova Vaga group at the end of 2012, Folha 8, published by William Tonet in Luanda since 1996, remains Angola’s only truly independent newspaper. “We are a newspaper of democracy,” says the intrepid editor-in-chief of Folha 8, who survives three assassinations and has 90 court cases on his hands, in an interview. In September 2013, an armoured presidential guard vehicle attempted to stage an accident with Tonet’s car. He escaped with horror. To this day, the journalistic work of Folha 8 is under constant threat.
The state is also strengthening its grip on the formerly independent Catholic broadcaster Rádio Ecclesia by means of financial means of pressure, which the hitherto unlegalised broadcaster has received from the Ministry of Information since 2012. In September 2015, the director of Radio Ecclesia himself admitted the financial injections from the government in a donation circular.
Freedom of the press
The media in Angola are subject to considerable legal restrictions. In Southern Africa’s first media barometer, Angola received the worst rating in the region. The 2007 report states: “Relative media diversity exists only in the capital Luanda. In rural areas, on the other hand, there are hardly any newspapers and the vast majority of the population is dependent on state short-wave radio stations for information. Although a media law permits private radio broadcasters, the government has so far ignored the relevant applications: “Not a single decision has been made for seven years.” The 2010 Media Barometer notes that progress has been made, but the planned law to combat cybercrime and other legislation passed in 2016 tend to point to further drastic restrictions on the press and social media.
In the assessment of freedom of the press in Angola by Reporters Without Borders in 2018, the country ranks far behind 121 out of 180 states. This is also due to the continuing repression against journalists, which not only affects prominent journalists such as Rafael Marques or William Tonet, but also many local reporters. Journalist Anónio Capalandanda asked for political asylum in South Africa in August 2015. After two journalists were murdered in July 2009, a Radio Despertar reporter was murdered the following year. Other ratings, such as IREX’s Angola Media Sustainability Index and other media indexes, also give a similarly poor assessment of Angola’s freedom of the press. The media institute in Southern Africa MISA maintains its Angola office in Luanda, which can currently only be contacted via the regional office in Namibia.