Oil Report

Sale of Angolan newspapers raises censorship fears

* Angola’s independent newspapers sold to unknown group

* Weekly newspapers often reported on government corruption

* Sale raises fears of media censorship

LUANDA, June 4 (Reuters) - A new player in Angola’s media market believed to have strong links to the government said on Friday it had bought three of Angola’s most independent newspapers, raising fears of censorship in the African nation.

Media Investments, whose owners are unknown, said in a statement it had acquired Semanario Angolense, A Capital and a 40 percent stake of Novo Jornal, all of which have been popular for reporting on government corruption.

“This was a normal transaction, dictated exclusively by market factors,” it said in a statement.

The move takes place at a time when Semanario Angolense, the most critical of the three newspapers against the government, had increased its reporting on corruption involving top government officials.

Manuel Vicente, head of state-owned oil firm Sonangol, was often a target of the newspaper, which accused him of using company money for his own interests. Sonangol has denied these reports.

The newspaper’s founder and director, Graca Campos, an outspoken government critic, left Semanario Angolense, said Rafael Marques, a journalist who often ran articles on corruption in the newspaper.

Marques said he had stopped contributing to the paper.

“The director has left and I have been told that I will no longer write for Semanario Angolense,” he told Reuters.

“It’s extremely strange that Semanario Angolense is sold to an unknown company especially when it was increasing its criticism of the government,” Marques said, adding he feared the new owners had strong links to the government.

Angola’s ruling party already holds huge sway over the media. The government controls the two national television stations, the radio and only daily newspaper.

With the acquisition of the three independent newspapers, Media Investments becomes the third biggest media group in Angola after the state and private media firm Media Nova, whose owners are also believed to have links to the government.

Reginaldo Silva, a member of the national media regulator CNC, said it was important to clarify who exactly was behind this deal.

“What is Media Investments? How can a group with this dimension have an interest in the media and what are its interests,” Silva said.

One of Africa’s top oil producers, Angola has been ruled for three decades by President Jose Eduardo dos Santos, who is expected to continue his tenure following a 2012 general election.

Reporting by Henrique Almeida