Struggling Guinea Bissau media hit with crippling licence fees

The Media Foundation for West Africa calls on the authorities in Guinea Bissau to review the recently announced regulatory fees for the operation of media in the country, as the increased tariffs risk decimating the already fragile media sector.

Fees for acquiring initial licence for commercial television with national coverage saw over 7000% increase – from 7 million CFA Francs to 500 million CFA Francs, with renewal going for 125 million CFA Francs, up from 1 million.

Licence to operate a radio station with a national coverage also went from 1.5 million CFA francs to 10 million. Renewal for this category also shot up from 250, 000 CFA Francs to 2.5 million a whopping 900%.

For community/religious radio, the initial licence fee is now 3 million CFA Francs, up from 250,000. Renewal fees also increased from 250,000 CFA Francs to 750,000.

“The lack of political stability in Guinea Bissau over the years has greatly hampered the country’s economic development. This has naturally affected the media sector which is barely surviving on a tiny advertising market. The massive hike in regulatory fees for the media, will therefore further weaken the sector financially. Some media houses might be forced to close, and further investment in the sector could be discouraged. The hike will have adverse consequences for the public’s right to information. We, therefore, urge the authorities to reduce the fees”, said Muheeb Saeed, MFWA’s Programme Manager for Freedom of Expression.

In what is seen as a possible final nail in the coffin of the beleaguered media in Guinea Bissau, the Ministries of Social Communication and Finance on November 18, 2022, jointly published a statement on the new media regulatory fees for operating audiovisual and print media. The new measure is based on the new media law N-13/2022 for Licensing and Granting of Broadcasting License which was adopted by the Cabinet on June 2022.

This licencing regime is indeed a grave threat to media freedom and access to information in Guinea Bissau.

The media does not receive the budgetary allocation from the government as stipulated in the law on the Telecommunication Tax. The Parliament of Guinea-Bissau adopted the new tax on telecommunication as a fiscal measure to raise funds to boost public investment and to improve the national media.

While the expected investment and its effectiveness is yet to be felt, this new measure has come to add to the problems faced by the media, with many outlets risking closure.

About 29% of the media organisations are operating in rented buildings, paying monthly rents ranging from 20,000 to 50,000 CFA francs.  For Community radio stations, however, 75% of them are unable to collect more than 80,000 CFA francs in various incomes from services such as advertising spots, press releases, and partner radio programmes.  Only 30% of the private media organisation have the capacity to generate a monthly income of about 1.5 million CFA francs which is used for the running costs of the stations.

The situation is even more complicated for private organisations, with monthly rental costs that can reach up to 250,000 CFA francs. Add the costs of electricity, water, internet data and telephone, and you have a sad picture of a financially stressed sector.

Considering this reality about the current media situation in Guinea-Bissau, this measure would expose the exercise of press freedom and freedom of expression in the country.

On April 7, 2022, the government shut down 79 radio stations over failure to regularise their broadcast licence status. A 72-hour deadline given by the Minister for Communications, Fernando Mendonça, initially targeted 88 radio stations but nine of them managed to meet the deadline.

All but one of affected radio stations resumed broadcasting after the government of Guinea Bissau agreed to allow staggered payment of the debts. The arrangement followed an engagement on April 13, 2022, between a delegation made up of the MFWA and its partners in Guinea Bissau and government officials.

The hike in fees has, therefore, been met with concern and disappointment among industry players.  António Nhaga, the President of the Order of Journalists of Guinea-Bissau, says the government must first create a business policy for the Guinean media, instead of taking measures that can undermine the exercise of press freedom in Guinea-Bissau. He described the new tariffs as unfortunate.

 “I consider unfortunate the latest joint order of the government on the new measures for granting licences for the operation of media channels in the country,” Nhaga lamented in a chat with the MFWA.

Since 2021, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) with funding support from the European Union has been implementing the media freedom project in Guinea Bissau. The project’s overall objective is to ensure that journalists and other media actors in Guinea Bissau are safe and secure, and produce ethically appropriate, timely, and fact-based journalistic content that fosters peaceful co-existence and enables public access to quality information in an environmentally sustainable manner.

The MFWA has since the project’s commencement engaged state actors in an inception meeting where they expressed commitment towards achieving the project objectives and also improving the freedom of expression landscape in Guinea Bissau. Also under the project, 80 participants drawn from the Ministry of Social Communication, the military, the police, the National Media Council, the National Regulatory Authority, the National Human Rights Commission and the judiciary participated in training workshops on and also validated a tailored training manual on human and media rights issues and freedom of expression in Guinea Bissau in October 2022.

It is in this context, the MFWA is calling on the President, the Ministers of Social Communication and Finance as well as the National Media Council and state actors to consider the concerns raised by the media actors in the spirit of engagements and commitment towards improving the media sectors in Guinea Bissau

We, therefore, join the media fraternity in Guinea Bissau to demand a stakeholder consultation not only to review the new regulatory tariffs but also to chart a course towards developing the media sector to make it viable and sustainable

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