Mali bans local broadcasts by leading French radio and TV news outlets
The announcement by Mali’s military junta that it plans to suspend local radio and TV news broadcasts by Radio France Internationale (RFI) and France 24 for reporting abuses by the Malian army and its Russian mercenary allies constitutes an attack on press freedom that will hurt the Malian public and all journalists and media in Mali, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says.
Journalists in Mali have been warned. Reporting that annoys Mali’s military government will result in threats, expulsions and broadcasting bans.
In a communiqué signed by Col. Abdoulaye Maïga, the minister for territorial administration and decentralisation, the junta said it was suspending RFI and France 24 following a report that RFI broadcast in two parts on 14 and 15 March about summary executions and looting by Malian soldiers and the Russian security personnel now accompanying them on their operations against terrorists in Mali.
The abuses were widely substantiated in around a dozen statements obtained by RFI and in a report by the NGO Human Rights Watch on Malian army executions of civilians that was released at the same time.
The junta describes the claims as “media hype” aimed at “destabilising the transition” and “discrediting” Mali’s security forces. And in a dangerous and completely baseless attempt at justification, the junta has even gone so far as to compare the reporting by RFI and France 24 to the “actions” of Radio Mille Collines, the radio station that contributed to the Rwandan genocide by broadcasting massacre calls in 1994.
The suspension announced by the junta also concerns the social media accounts of RFI and France 24, while Malian media outlets are also banned from relaying their content. RFI and France 24 are French public broadcasters that are funded by the French state.
“We strongly condemn this decision, which deals yet another blow to media independence and freedom in Mali,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “This decision punishes international media outlets, but it also constitutes an attack against Mali and the Malians themselves. Journalists and media in MaIi will be afraid to tackle sensitive subjects and the population will be deprived of essential information.”
Press freedom has declined steadily in Mali since the start of the year. An obscure group close to the junta calling itself the “Collective for the Defence of the Military” (CDM) issued two press releases in recent months accusing the correspondents of RFI and France 24 of “intoxication” and misinformation and calling for the withdrawal of their accreditation.
Benjamin Roger, a French journalist working for the magazine Jeune Afrique, was deported on 7 February, less than 24 hours after his arrival in Mali. The authorities attributed his expulsion to an accreditation problem even though he had a valid visa and the new procedure for obtaining accreditation was not put in place until after his deportation. The new methods are intrusive and detrimental to the confidentiality of journalists’ sources. To be accredited, journalists must detail the stories they plan to cover and the people they plan to meet.
Mali’s rapprochement with Russia, the deployment of mercenaries from the Russian paramilitary company Wagner, and the harassment and sanctions targeting French journalists and media outlets recall events in the Central African Republic. The arrival of Russian diplomatic and security personnel in the CAR from 2018 onwards resulted in pressure and sanctions targeting journalists, and in disinformation campaigns targeting France and French citizens, including reporters.
Mali is ranked 99th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.