Burkina Faso’s president must not block media regulator

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Burkina Faso’s president to promote press freedom instead of paralysing the country’s media regulator, the Superior Council for Communication (CSC), or trying to take it over.

Tasked with ensuring respect for journalistic ethics, promoting freedom of expression and safeguarding the media’s access to sources of information, the CSC ceased to function nearly  three months ago.

After the death of one of its nine members and the resignation of two others, including its then president, in September 2021, the CSC elected a new president and vice-president in May. The new president’s main rival filed a legal challenge to his election, claiming it was procedurally flawed, but a court dismissed the challenge.

At that point, Paul-Henri Sandaogo Damiba, an army officer who has been Burkina Faso’s president since a military coup in January 2022, should have issued a decree confirming the CSC’s new president in this position. His failure to do so is preventing the CSC from functioning.

It is unprecedented to see a president prevent the proper functioning of a regulator that plays a crucial role in promoting press freedom, especially in a country embroiled in a security crisis that is dangerous for the media,” said Sadibou Marong, the director of RSF’s West Africa bureau. “If Burkina Faso’s authorities want to avoid being seen as trying to take over the CSC, they must put themselves above the fray and issue the decree confirming its new president without delay.”

RSF has spoken with journalists and media organisations who condemn the inaction and say  Burkina Faso’s president should have confirmed the CSC’s new president as soon as the legality of his election was upheld. The current situation is handicapping media regulation and threatening the CSC’s credibility as an independent body, they say. Journalists’ organisations issued a statement on 3 August to “warn the president against attempt to disband or take over the country’s sole media regulator.”

The CSC’s paralysis “is making all media stakeholders uneasy,” RSF was told by Idrissa Birba, a journalist who heads New Human Rights (NDH), an organisation that defends press freedom. “Any attempt to eliminate this regulator would be a historic error,” he added.

Many press freedom violations have been registered in Burkina Faso since the start of the year. A journalist was injured and two others were briefly detained during the army mutiny that led to a coup in January. Two reporters were banned from filming President Damiba when he chaired his first cabinet meeting in March.

Four journalists have been the targets of threats since May. In one of these cases, a man suspected of making death threats against media commentator Newton Ahmed Barry in an audio recording was briefly detained in July. A TV5 Monde journalist was expelled from a public meeting on 14 May by an activist who denounced her for working for a French media outlet that “constantly demonises and caricatures us.”

Like other Sahel or part-Sahel countries, Burkina Faso is threatened by armed groups that control some areas of the country, and this has contributed to a decline in quality journalism and news reporting in recent years.

Burkina Faso is ranked 41st out of 180 countries in RSF's 2022 World Press Freedom Index.

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