Burkina Faso had until recently been considered as one of the success stories of Africa regarding freedom of the press. But growing violence and political instability linked to the January 2022 coup – which toppled President Kaboré – poses grave risks to journalists’ security and access to information.
Burkina Faso enjoys a dynamic, professional and pluralist media environment. It includes 80 newspapers (including Sidwaya, L’Evénement, Le Pays), 185 radio stations (Omega FM), 32 television networks (Radiodiffusion Télévision du Burkina, BF1) and 161 online news sites (faso.net, Burkina 24). The culture of investigative journalism is fairly widespread, but the deterioration of security and political conditions has brought an increase in outside pressure and self-censorship.
Although the free practice of journalism is a reality in Burkina Faso, the former government tended to prioritise the fight against threats to public safety over the struggle for freedom of information. In May, 2021, a French journalist and a Belgian filmmaker, both accredited, were expelled from the country, where they were reporting on a story. The unfounded reason was that they posed a “threat to state security”. After the January 2022 coup, disruptions in internet connections were documented.
Press freedom and the right to information have been guaranteed by the Constitution since 1991. The crime of defamation no longer carries a prison sentence. It is, however, subject to fines so steep that could lead to the outright closure of the concerned media outlets. In 2019, the erosion of public security led to a change in the criminal code, which criminalises the dissemination of information on military operations in order to “not undermine troops’ morale”. It authorises sentences of up to 10 years in prison, and heavy fines.
Burkina Faso media operate in a precarious environment, with a small readership and sparse advertising. And the Covid-19 public health crisis has sparked a drastic reduction in circulation and in advertising revenue.
The most sensitive issue in Burkina Faso is religion. Extremely active religious groups monitor and exert pressure on public debate, posing a threat to freedom of expression, potentially leading to self-censorship.
The safety of journalists has suffered major setbacks in recent years. In April 2021, two Spanish journalists, David Beriain and Roberto Fraile, were killed while reporting in eastern Burkina Faso. They were the first such deaths in more than 20 years. In general, regions categorised as dangerous are hard to reach. Since the end of 2020, journalists have not been granted access to reception sites for internally displaced people, under the pretext of not being able to guarantee their safety. Media workers are sometimes threatened and attacked when covering demonstrations.