Summary (the hierarchization of television news in Congo Brazaville)

Jonas Charles Ndeke§

Abstract: This article looks at the hierarchization of television news in Congo in a context marked, on the one hand, by the liberalization of the media field and, on the other, by the state's desire to keep a firm grip on the media sector. It is based on a corpus consisting of six summaries and six news drivers from 2015 to 2017 from the Télé-Congo and DRTV channels. Our investigations show that Télé-Congo focuses on presidential and governmental events, while DRTV aligns itself with the territory of proximity with a multi-thematic tendency. These results are justified by Congo's state-influenced television environment.

Keywords: prioritization, television news, Congo-Brazzaville, institutional, proximity

Abstract: This article focuses on the prioritization of television news in Congoin a context marked by the liberation of the media field and on the other hand, by the will of the Government to keep a stranglehold on the media sector. It is based on a corpus made up of 6 summaries and 6 current affairs conductors from 2015 to 2017 from the Congo TV and DRTV channels. Our investigations show that Congo TV favors presidential and government events, while DRTV aligns itself with the territory of proximity with a multi-thematic tendency. These results are justified by the television environment under state influence in Congo.

Keywords: hierarchy, television news, Congo-Brazzaville, institutional, proximity


The choice and hierarchical order of topics in the media in general, and on television in particular, is not determined by individual journalists. The invisible script, or selection of facts, is one of the elements that preside over the elaboration of information in the media in general, and on television in particular. It is the first element in this process. As François Poulle and Roger Bautier (108) point out, "the newsroom is selective. Like all press organs, it sorts and chooses from the flow of dispatches...". It's worth remembering that news is originally an event, according to the journalistic ideal. In this implicitly positivist referent, "the event is a real fact - at least, recognized as such by the observer, to take account of the debates that regularly animate positivists and constructivists on this terrain of media information" (Delforce, Cabedoche) - that has occurred in a given geographical area. Information is the result of media processing of this fact. This fact is brought to the attention of a newsroom via a source of information.

Choosing and prioritizing information is the responsibility of the editorial conference, if we don't extend this to "the detailed analysis of all the players involved in the process of co-constructing media information" (Charraudeau). The editorial conference generally takes place in two stages for each newspaper, namely the selection of subjects to be covered by the journalists, the examination of what they have acquired through their investigations, and the decision whether or not to broadcast this work. This gives the channel's news director, editor-in-chief, managing editor and the heads of the various departments (political, social, foreign, etc.) the opportunity to examine the news.

Today, the process of producing and disseminating information is being turned upside down by transnational television channels and social-digital devices. Several transnational television channels and numerous social networks, thanks to the Internet, enable viewers and users of these socio-numerical devices to access information in real time, by offering streaming news formats. Meanwhile, in the Congolese context, most channels, with the exception of VOX TV, are still subject to news broadcasting hours. But viewers want to know everything in real time. In journalistic jargon, if a news item has no link with the immediate news, it is "put on the fridge", waiting for an event to update it. At the same time, the codes of ethics adopted by the so-called representative bodies of journalism impose a latency period on distribution: that of verification of the information and the source, which is supposed to undergo contradictory confrontation beforehand. Finally, it is the editorial line that gives the channel its originality, coherence and justification. Even if news is an "obligatory mistress", as is often heard in editorial offices, TV channels have to decide on the angle from which they will approach facts and ideas. And news is so vast, in most fields, that choices have to be made constantly, and even criteria specified in advance.

The state of research in the Republic of Congo reveals the absence of specific works on the hierarchization of television news. In addition, there are works devoted to the media in general (Miyouna, Gakosso, Ndeke) that address the question of the hierarchization of television news. We also place this article in this context. The Congolese media environment is marked by state influence, i.e. by the state and its institutions (presidency of the republic and government). This state influence leads to a double media coverage, with a predominance of institutional subjects (public channels) and multi-thematic "proximity" subjects (private channels) (Ndeke 193-304).  

The aim of this article is to highlight the hierarchical order of television news in the Congo, in a context marked on the one hand by the liberalization of the media field, and on the other by the State's determination to maintain a firm grip on the media sector. To this end, it will attempt to answer two questions: what are the binding imperatives behind the selection and hierarchical order of news topics on Télé-Congo (public channel) and DRTV (private channel)? What factors justify the hierarchical ordering of television news in the Congolese context?

To answer these questions, two research hypotheses will be mobilized. The first hypothesis states that the choice and hierarchical order of themes on Télé-Congo news is dominated by presidential and government news, and on DRTV by local topics. The second hypothesis justifies the choice and hierarchical order of news at Télé-Congo and DRTV by a television environment under state influence.

1. Theoretical and methodological frameworks 

This article is structured around the concept of mediatization. Mediatization refers to "... the mediatization of individuals, groups or institutions through the construction of formalized media products, with a strategic aim, involving collective practices of consumption" (Lafon 163). The invisible script or pre-established selection of facts is therefore the translation of practices recognized by the field, which consists in choosing the events that deserve to be brought to the public's attention as a function of habitus, editorial instructions, deontological charters and the balance of power between internal and external players. Télé-Congo 's editorial line is particularly subject to this influence. The channel's editorial orientation explains the logic of excluding certain fields of information from news coverage, which may or may not be directly linked to institutional interests (Ndeke 193-304). It is in this context that the work of Kaarle Nordenstreng and Tapio Varis on the one-way circulation of world news and that of Patrick Charaudeau, Guy Lochard and Jean-Claude Soulages (31 - 46) on parallelism in news attitudes will be mobilized to understand the hierarchization of news at Télé-Congo. At DRTV, on the other hand, distancing from the State explains the a priori consensual positioning, more oriented towards so-called "proximity" subjects, and a tendency to diversify the various fields of information. This article also draws on Hervé Bourges' conceptual approach to the decolonization of information to answer this question about the hierarchization of news on DRTV.

Our corpus consists of two types of data. These are six summaries of the Télé-Congo (3 summaries) and DRTV (3 summaries) newscasts of May 26, 2015, December 17, 2016 and September 6, 2017, i.e. 10 news headlines. This first category of data is completed by six drivers of the Télé-Congo (3 drivers) and DRTV (3 drivers) newscasts of May 26, 2015, December 14, 2016 and August 10, 2017, i.e. 80 news items. Based on the principle and logic of observing the news hierarchies of the Télé - Congo and DRTV channels over a long period of time, as recommended by Jocelyne Arquembourg-Moreau, and faithful to the "desire for history that characterizes the dispositions of CIS researchers" (Mattelart, Cabedoche), our corpus is inscribed over time (2015 to 2017). Following an exploratory approach to several newscasts, we drew on data from a communication watch carried out from June to August 2018 at Télé-Congo and DRTV . These data were recorded directly at DRTV. For Télé-Congo, some were recorded directly at Télé-Congo and others at DRTV.[1] on websites[2]. The choice of Télé-Congo and DRTV is based on the fact that they are general-interest channels in the public and private sectors respectively, broadcasting via satellite and attracting a larger audience - 39% for Télé-Congo and 37% for DRTV (Ndeke 425). Their equivalence is sufficiently coherent to allow a comparative analysis of the hierarchy of representative information on Congolese channels. While waiting to extend the number of channels in our corpus, these two channels, which are fairly representative of professional practices in the Congolese media sector, will enable us to identify constants in terms of news hierarchization. These data were processed manually. In our opinion, they enable us to identify a trend in the hierarchization of news in these two television channels. Content analysis (De Bonville, Bardin) is used as an analytical tool for this purpose. Content analysis is a research technique based on the thematic pre-categorization of textual data. This corpus was also subjected to comparative analysis (Vigour 5). Multivariate comparison, which allows free use of any possible comparative configuration, was used. These methodological approaches will shed light on the hierarchization of news at Télé-Congo and DRTV. This article is divided into three parts. The first part examines the Congolese television environment. The second part focuses on the prioritization of news at Télé-Congo. Finally, the last part deals with the hierarchization of information at DRTV. All these analyses will be cross-referenced for comparative purposes.

2. Results and discussion

2.1. State-controlled television environment

To understand the choice and hierarchical order of Télé-Congo and DRTV news themes, we felt it necessary to call on a first indicator, namely the context of television development in the Congo. The brutal challenge to the state monopoly on television in the Congo, which began in 1990, led to a redefinition of the role of the state, with the transition from state television to so-called "public service" television, and the development of a private television sector from 2002 onwards. The public television sector is led by the single public channel Télé-Congo. Télé-Congo is a public channel under the supervision of the Ministry of Communication. Article 1 of Decree no. 2003-224 of August 21, 2003, on the responsibilities and organization of the national television directorate, stipulates that "the national television directorate is the technical body that assists the Minister in the exercise of his responsibilities in the field of television". Moreover, the staff of Congolese national television have the status of civil servants and suffer from a lack of adequate training, due in particular to budgetary difficulties and the absence of a proper training plan. At the same time, there is a Conseil Supérieur de la Liberté de Communication (CSLC) responsible, among other things, for regulating communication in the country and allocating airtime during election periods.

In the private sector, although a number of private channels have been launched(TOP TV, VOX TV, DRTV, ESTV, etc.), most of them belong to personalities close to those in power. This is the case of La Digital Radio Télévision (DRTV-International). DRTV is the oldest of the Congolese private channels. Launched in 2002, it is part of an audiovisual media group comprising two television channels(Digital Radio Télévision ( DRTV-International ) and Digital Radio Télévision Force One ( DRTV F1)) and a radio station. This audiovisual media group is owned by a private operator, Mr. Norbert Dabira, a general in the Congolese armed forces. In its early days, DRTV devoted a large part of its budget to training its staff, but in recent years, as a result of financial difficulties, this training budget has fallen sharply.

So, even if law n°8 - 2001 of November 12, 2001 theoretically enshrines the liberalization of the media sector, the State is trying to maintain its stranglehold on the media. This is reflected in the implementation of unfinished reforms and the selective and restrictive authorization of private media.

2.2 News hierarchy on Télé - Congo , driven by presidential and government news

The table below shows the results of the analysis of Télé-Congo 's summaries by period:

Table No. 1: Hierarchical order of themes covered in the summaries of Télé-Congo 's newscasts in 2015, 2016 and 2017
presidential news30
government news30
company themes20
Cultural themes10
international issues10

Table 1 shows that the hierarchical order of topics covered in Télé-Congo news summaries gives priority to presidential news. News about the President of the Republic is the most important topic in Télé-Congo news summaries. Government news comes second. In third place are social issues. Finally, cultural and international themes occupy fourth and fifth place respectively. The representation rates of themes in Télé-Congo 's news summaries follow more or less the same pattern. Télé-Congo news summaries are dominated by presidential news (30%) and government news (30%). These first two categories alone account for 60% of the representativeness of news items covered in Télé-Congo news summaries. Social themes account for 20%. Lastly, the cultural and international themes categories each account for 10%.

Over the 2015 period, the results of Télé-Congo 's news summaries show a balance between the different categories. There were 33% for the presidential news category, 33% for the government news category and 33% for the international themes category. The first theme reports on the continuing consultations initiated by the President of the Republic on the life of the nation and the functioning of the State. The second theme focused on the conclusions of the sixteenth conference of the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS), held in N'Djamena, Chad. The Republic of Congo was represented by President Denis Sassou N'Guesso. Among other issues, the summit decided on the technical extension of the transition in the Central African Republic. Although it concerned the tenth University of African Notaries, this activity (the third theme of the summary) was overseen by the then Minister of Land Reform, representing his colleague the Minister of Justice, who was unable to attend.

Also, in 2016, there was a 50% representation rate for the presidential news category, 25% for government news and 25% for the cultural themes category. The first activity was devoted to the audience granted by the President of the Republic to the directors of the Italian company ENI, which resulted in the signing of agreements to strengthen the Congo's energy supply. The second activity focused on exchanges between President Denis Sassou N'Guesso and Marck Gentilini, a health expert, on the fight against counterfeit medicines. The third theme of the summary is devoted to government news, in particular the opening of the Assises nationales de la santé in Ewo, in the Cuvette Ouest department, under the supervision of the Prime Minister. Finally, the last item in the summary deals with a politico-cultural theme, namely the organization of a conference-debate around a book on the need for political management in the management of power: Mr Serge Ikiemi, the organizer of this event, was a guest on the TV news. 

In 2017, although the top news item in the summary was government news, this category accounted for only 33% of the themes covered in the Télé-Congo news summary, compared with 67% for social themes. The first headline is devoted to government news, including a meeting of the steering committee for the 2017-2021 National Development Program, held under the authority of the head of government, Clément Mouamba. The second and third headlines deal with social issues, respectively the opening of the one-stop shop for Rwandan passports set up in Brazzaville to enable Rwandan refugees wishing to return home to obtain this document easily, and the departure of the Managing Director of the Société des Transports Publics Urbain (STPU), a condition set by the company's workers to lift the strike they have been observing for a month.

These results of the hierarchical order of themes covered in Télé-Congo news summaries from 2015 to 2017 show an imbalance between the different categories. This imbalance is explained by a significant gap of 20% between the first categories (presidential news 30% and government news 30%) and the last categories (cultural themes 10% and international themes 10%).

An analysis of the summaries of the national Télé-Congo channel reveals the deployment of an institutional logic. This calls into question Télé-Congo's much-vaunted status as a public service channel. In line with this institutional logic, the priority of summaries is given to presidential and government news. This trend is in line with the conception of "television as an essential instrument of ideological domination of the masses" (Latorre et al. 6) "and as an 'ideological state apparatus'" (Foucault).

Table No. 2: Hierarchical order of topics covered on Télé-Congo newscasts in 2015, 2016 and 2017.
1presidential news3-58
2government news37414
3company themes2338
4economic themes1438
5political topics3-14
6Cultural themes--22
7International themes2--2

This table highlights the results of the hierarchical order of topics covered on Télé-Congo newscasts from the 2015, 2016 and 2017 periods. These results clearly show media agenda effects unfolding on Télé-Congo. The hierarchical order of Télé-Congo news items follows the same pattern as that of the summaries. Télé-Congo gives priority to news about the President of the Republic. News about the President of the Republic is the top news item. In 2015 and 2017, newscasters devoted 8 recording units to him as the first subject to open the newscast, i.e. 3 first subjects in 2015 and 5 first subjects in 2017. The representativeness rate of the President of the Republic's news over all periods is estimated at 17%. Furthermore, while the first place is occupied by news directly linked to the President of the Republic, the second is devoted to government news. These three examples show that, of the 46 items broadcast, 14 were devoted to government news, and were broadcast immediately after the President of the Republic's news for the first and third news drivers, and in first place for the second news driver, in the absence of news linked to the President of the Republic. Government news has the highest rate of representativeness in our sample at 30%, with 3 items broadcast in 2015, 7 items broadcast in 2016 and 4 items broadcast in 2017. Also, in third place in the hierarchical order of topics covered on Télé-Congo newscasts, we note the categories of social topics and economic topics 17% each. Political themes rank fourth in the hierarchy of Télé-Congo news topics, with 9% each. Finally, the last two categories, cultural themes and international themes, have a representativeness rate of 4%.

Furthermore, these results confirm the imbalance observed between the different categories in terms of the themes covered. This imbalance is reflected in the 26% gap between the government news category (30%) and the cultural and international themes categories (4%). This clearly reflects Télé - Congo's institutional positioning.

According to the data collected, Télé - Congo gives priority to news about the President of the Republic and the government, in line with the observation made by Kaarle Nordenstreng and Tapio Varis that, when it comes to transmitting dispatches from the countries of the South, the subjects covered by the world's major news agencies are reduced from the anecdotal to the institutional (Nordenstreng, Varis).

While the channel is part of a process of transformation from a state-owned channel to a public service channel, in practice, the imprint of the state through its institutions remains quite present. As Marie Soleil Frère testifies (144), "the television medium has always been an essential preoccupation for the ruling elite. Concerned about their image, heads of state and political representatives are extremely sensitive to the content broadcast. As Jérôme Bourdon has observed, television news in the Congolese context is still "thought of" by those in power as "a means of concretizing the links between the heart of power and the periphery, by enabling direct, one-way communication" (Bourdon 63). The author's observation is not unanimous either, in the sense that since the 1990s we have been witnessing the liberalization of media space in the Congolese context, as Tourya Guaaybess has demonstrated in an analysis of Arab television-"the state is no longer master in its own kingdom" (Guaaybess 154).

2.3 Choice and hierarchical order of DRTV news topics dictated by "proximity" topics with a multi-thematic tendency

Deciphering the summaries and leads of DRTV 's newscasts will enable us to highlight the hierarchization of information at DRTV.

Table No. 3: Hierarchical order of topics covered in DRTV newscasts in 2015, 2016 and 2017
Company themes100

A reading of DRTV 's summary results clearly shows a desire to "de-institutionalize" the news processed by this channel. No institutional themes were addressed in these three examples of summaries. Social themes monopolize the summaries for all the periods studied, with a representativeness rate of 100%. Several other lessons can be drawn from this reading of DRTV news summaries.

Firstly, the example selected for the 2015 period, in particular the newscast of May 26, 2015, devotes its summary to two themes. The first headline of the newscast focuses on the launch of the sixth grade entrance exams, and the last headline deals with the assessment of cooperation between the cities of Brazzaville and Kinshasa in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Secondly, this logic of "proximity" is also perceptible through the example of the summary of the December 17, 2016 TV news, also made up of two headlines. The first headline deals with the disarray of the population after the rains in Brazzaville, particularly in the 6th arrondissement of Talangaï in districts 66 and 68. This dismay is explained by the enormity of the damage, with the roofs of houses washed away here and there. The last headline focuses on preparations for the start of the academic year at Marien Ngouabi University, where a student organization, MEEC, is preparing new baccalaureate holders for the new academic year.

Thirdly, this positioning of proximity is also assumed through the example of the summary of the TV news of September 6, 2017. This summary covers three headlines linked to the daily lives of Congolese people. The first title deals with a question about the start of the new school year in the Congolese education system, where the opening of school doors to private and public schools will no longer be set at the same date. The second deals with the phenomenon of self-medication in Congolese society, while the last title is devoted to the continuing strike at the Société de transport public urbain (STPU) in Brazzaville.

While we await further analysis, we can already see from the results of the summaries selected for the DRTV channel a tendency towards a proximity positioning of this channel, according to the professional-discussable criteria of the notion.

Table No. 4: Hierarchical order of topics covered in DRTV 's newscasts of 2015, 2016 and 2017.
1company themes52512
2presidential news1-12
3government news22-4
4economic themes-224
5political topics-1-1
6Other (religion, culture)3126
7Port themes--22
8International themes3 -3

An examination of DRTV 's news drivers shows that the channel's news hierarchy is dominated by social themes. Social issues are the top news items on DRTV. They record the highest rate of representativeness in our sample with 35%, i.e. 5 subjects broadcast in 2015, 2 subjects broadcast in 2016 and 5 subjects broadcast in 2017. In second place in the hierarchical order of subjects covered on DRTV newscasts, we record news about the President of the Republic with 6%, i.e. 1 subject broadcast in 2015 and 1 subject broadcast in 2017. In third place in the hierarchical order of DRTV news topics is government news. They account for 12% of the representativeness rate in our sample. In fourth place in the hierarchical order of topics covered on DRTV newscasts is the economic topics category, with 12%. Fifth in the hierarchical order is the political topics category, with 3%. The "other" category (religion and sport) is in sixth place with 18%. Seventh place in the hierarchy is occupied by sports themes with 2%. Finally, the international themes category comes last with 8%.

From these results, we can see that DRTV positions itself in the territory of proximity, giving priority to social issues. The hierarchical order of topics on DRTV 's news programs highlights subjects considered to be "close" to everyday local concerns, if we are to be content with this vague yet corporately enshrined definition of proximity as a "communicative imaginary" (Restier-Melleray 251-270). 

Over and above the channel's emphasis on local topics, these results also highlight a trend towards thematic diversity, which is justified by smaller gaps between the different categories. DRTV follows a logic of thematic diversity, in line with Hervé Bourges' thesis on the "decolonization of news", when the author protested against the hegemony of news content imposed by Northern agencies for the treatment of international news, including from the South via subscriptions to global agencies, located in the North, and proposing to open up this treatment to local news, supposed to be of priority interest to local populations (Bourges).


An examination of six news summaries and six news leads, i.e. 10 headlines and 80 news items on Télé-Congo and DRTV, reveals a diametrically opposed hierarchical order of television news in the Congolese context. Télé-Congo gives priority to news about the President of the Republic and the government. President's news and government news are respectively the first and second items on Télé-Congo's summaries and newscasts. DRTV, on the other hand, treads the territory of proximity. Social issues are the first subjects covered on DRTV newscasts.

These results confirm our first hypothesis, which assumes that the choice and hierarchical order of themes on Télé-Congo 's newscasts is dominated by presidential and government news, and on DRTV by local topics.

As a result, beyond the process of media liberalization underway in the Congo, the state continues to keep a watchful eye on media content. This observation confirms our second hypothesis, which justifies the choice and hierarchical order of information on Télé-Congo and DRTV by a television environment under state influence.

These results pave the way for other avenues of research, in particular extending the number of channels in our corpus and broadening the study corpus.

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How to cite this article:

MLA: Ndeke, Jonas Charles. "The hierarchization of television information in Congo (Brazzaville)." Uirtus 1.2. (December 2021): 601-617.

§Marien Ngouabi University, Congo (Brazzaville), [email protected]

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