The IPI global network welcomes the reopening of 77 radio stations in Guinea-Bissau after the government on April 7 suspended their broadcast licenses for non-payment of license fees. However, we remain concerned by the government’s abrupt intrusion into the country’s radio market, which must be regulated through independent and transparent licensing regimes and processes. We urge authorities to ensure that the country’s radio sector can operate independently and without fear of arbitrary closure and to safeguard the public’s access to information rights.
On April 3, the country’s media regulator, the Ministry of Social Communication, notified 88 radio stations that they had 72 hours to renew their licenses or risked having these revoked, according to reports. Of these operators, only nine – mostly religious stations – were able to complete this procedure within this timeframe. As a result, the inspector general ordered 79 radio stations to cease broadcasting. Authorities then followed with another decree warning those who continued to broadcast would be in breach of the broadcasting law and could face up to three years in jail or be fined.
On April 27, 77 of these radio stations were allowed to resume broadcasting after multiple media and civil society groups helped negotiate staggered payment plans between each station and the Ministry. However, two privately owned radio stations, Radio Cidade and Radio Capital, were unable to successfully negotiate their payments and remain off air, according to the Media Foundation for West Africa.
“While it is positive that most of the suspended broadcasters are back on air, the government’s sudden closure of these stations sets a dangerous precedent”, IPI Deputy Director Scott Griffen said. “We are concerned about the implications to press freedom and the public’s right to information caused by the month-long impasse between the regulator and licensed radio stations in Guinea-Bissau. Media licensing must be carried out by independent regulatory bodies based on principles of transparency and fairness.”
Radio Capital FM, one of the two stations that failed to negotiate their license fee payment schedule, was attacked by a group of armed men in military uniforms on February 8. This attack occurred just a week after the failed coup attempt on President Umaro Sissoco Embaló. According to reports, Radio Capital FM had been critical of the Embaló government. This was the second attack on the radio station in two years.
According to the Media Foundation for West Africa, the station says they do not have the means to clear the debt, citing these two attacks on the radio station that resulted in destruction of all its equipment.