Saturday May 25: Touring a newsroom where the writing is a photograph on the wall
The Tele 50 anchor presents the 3 p.m. newscast in Kinshasa, DRC. (Lisa LaFlamme)
CTV's sprawling studio off Toronto's Highway 401 doesn't have a swimming pool or pet monkeys, we don't have portraits of our Prime Minister on every wall either.
At the largest television network in DR Congo all of these things are in full view, the proud trappings of a fledgling enterprise called Tele Cinquante. It went on the air in 2010 in honour of the 50th anniversary of the country's independence from Belgium, and to say it's "close to the government" is an understatement.
At first, according to the people I spoke to, it was the only news outlet that didn't demand money from politicians to cover their agenda - that didn't last long.
Within months, politicians who "wanted to hear their own voices" on this modern new channel started "motivating" journalists with cash payments.
When I asked whether this was common knowledge, my question was met with a laugh and "ca c'est le Congo."
After all, I was told, even garden variety news conferences helped defray the cost of buying new equipment or paying rent.
The president and founder of the channel ushered me and a small group of JHR staffers into his opulent office. It had magnificent chairs covered in some exotic pelt. The lights were optic fibre elephant tusks and there were blown up photographs of he and President Kabila covering the walls.
JMK, as everyone calls him, is the very personification of the African "Big Man" - dressed impeccably in a beautifully tailored colourful silk chemise and fine leather shoes.
Turns out his office was about four times the size of their newsroom, which he escorted us through.
No fine leather here. It was a barebones, plastic-chaired room with a handful of desks, a few laptops, and a handwritten assignment board. The channel does have top-of-the-line HD cameras and editing equipment along with a modern control room.
The network has more than a hundred reporters across the country and within only three years, has more than 12 million viewers (Total population: 70 million).
It's a 24-hour TV station with a constantly-changing news crawl, and broadcasts not only in French but also in four of the many other languages spoken in this country.
Tele Cinquante was only one of several TV and radio stations I saw today. The only independent was Radio Okapi - safe behind the barbed-wire walls of a UN base, funded in partnership with a Swiss foundation - Hirondel - focused on media peace building projects.
It also has a nationwide reach but it may also have a shelf life. Radio Okapi was established after the war when President Kabila was appointed in 2003 but the news managers worry that as soon as the UN pulls back on this mission, the radio station will need a buyer and here the sale comes at the cost of an independent voice.
I'm off now to see JHR staffer and journalist, Julie Sufu, perform in a local theatre production tonight. She has her own brilliant and brave story of life as a journalist here, which I will share in another blog.