Reporters Without Borders and its Congolese partner Journalist in Danger (JED) are deeply concerned about an order issued on 1 December by the High Council for Broadcasting and Communication (CSAC) to jam Radio Okapi.
The station, run by the United Nations for the past 10 years, broadcasts throughout the Democratic Republic of Congo. It was ordered off the air for four days and could suffer more severe penalties unless it complies with the demands of the CSAC.
Contacted by JED on Monday, the council's chairman, Jean Bosco Baala, said Radio Okapi was under fire for failing to submit its programme schedule to the media watchdog.
"The head of public information for MONUSCO (UN Organization Stabilization Mission in the Democratic Republic of Congo) rejected the request from the CSAC on the grounds that Radio Okapi benefits from certain privileges and immunities which mean it is not obliged to lodge its programme schedule with the CSAC," the council ruling stated.
JED considers the failure to submit the programme schedule is not sufficient justification by itself for such a decision that adversely affects millions of people for whom the station is the only source of information.
Reporters Without Borders said: "While the humanitarian and security situation in Nord-Kivu is a matter of concern for the international community as a whole, the suspension of Radio Okapi deprives the population of vital information and adds to the feeling of insecurity."
Since M23 rebels captured the town of Goma several weeks ago, the region had been subjected to media control by the guerrillas and is now even more isolated from the outside world thanks the excessive action of the CSAC.
While hoping that the management of the UN radio station can find a solution to the deadlock, Reporters Without Borders and Journalist in Danger call on the media watchdog to lift the suspension without conditions.
The station signal is jammed, preventing it from broadcasting on the FM waveband, but it can be accessed online. The UN special representative, aware of the importance of access to news and information in areas of conflict, decided to use "alternative methods to allow Radio Okapi programmes to be received, even intermittently, in Nord-Kivu," an initiative applauded by the two organizations.
The Congolese media regulator also sent a warning notice to Radio France Internationale (RFI) on 28 November for broadcasting "interviews containing disparaging comments about the authorities and institutions of the DRC."
The CSAC accused RFI of repeatedly broadcasting interviews, between 22 and 27 November, with "a negative force [...] occupying part of the DRC."