Burkina Faso Bans French State Broadcaster in Blow to Press Freedom

Press freedom groups have condemned Burkina Faso’s halting of broadcasts by French media outlet Radio France International (RFI). Ouagadougou’s military leaders linked the ban to RFI reporting that the junta describes as false. Critics say the military is seeking to control news and information as it struggles against worsening insecurity.

Burkina Faso is the second West African country, after Mali, to take the French broadcaster off the air. Both countries are under military rule.

In a statement, the Burkinabe military junta says Radio France International made false reports pertaining to an alleged foiled coup attempt last week and had given voice to Islamist militants. 

In the wake of the ban, announced Saturday, RFI issued a separate statement saying it “strongly deplores” the authorities’ actions and will “explore all avenues to restore RFI’s broadcasting.” RFI also cited its unwavering commitment to the freedom to inform and to the “professional work of its journalists.”

Jonathan Rozen is with the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based advocacy group.

“The Committee to Protect Journalists is alarmed by and investigating the suspension of French broadcaster RFI in Burkina Faso. It’s unfortunate that as people in Burkina Faso and across the Sahel grapple with insecurity, authorities have chosen to deny access to a prominent source of news and information,” he said.

Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, says the authorities’ decision will prevent other journalists from reporting on terrorism and could be illegal.

Sadibou Marong is RSF’s West Africa director.

“CSC is the media regulator, which according to the law has the prerogative to suspend or sanction the media. Unless the law has been changed this is also a violation of the media regulation laws,” said Marong.

Burkina Faso has been at war with militants linked to Islamic State and al-Qaida for more than six years. As the violence has worsened, so has political instability, with the country enduring two military coups this year, one in January, one in September. Both juntas have promised to resolve the country’s security problems.

Andrew Lebovich is an analyst with Clingendael Institute, a Netherlands-based research group. He says the current junta led by Ibrahim Traoré is under increasing pressure to produce results. 

“Attacks have continued, and the junta is still significantly under threat and still faces I think important pressures. I think political pressures, but also pressure even potentially within the military, so there’s a lot for them to balance right now and I don’t think they’ve shown real signs of success yet,” he said.

The action against RFI comes after a number of anti-French protests across the country in recent months. Some blame Burkina Faso’s military partnership with its former colonizer for the failure to stop the violence.

Earlier this year, France announced it would downsize its counter-insurgency military operation in the Sahel and regroup and recast itself under a European umbrella.

Across the western Sahel countries of Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger, fatalities caused by conflict have increased by more than 50 percent this year, according to information from the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project. 

(Lisa Bryant in Paris contributed to this report.)

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