Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is worried about the investigative bimonthly L'Evènement’s sudden suspension by Burkina Faso’s High Council for Communication (CSC). The magazine has been suspended for a month from 19 February for allegedly revealing “military secrets.”
The sanction was imposed because an article in the magazine’s 10 February issue about an attack on a munitions depot in Yimdi by former members of the presidential guard was accompanied a map of the various munitions depots used by the army in the past and now no longer in use.
When military prosecutors questioned L'Evènement director Germain Nama Bitiou and editor Newton Hamed Barry on 18 February, they appeared to be satisfied by Bitiou’s explanation that the article had simply aimed to show how the military managed its infrastructure, and that the former depots had no strategic value.
The two journalists were very surprised when the CSC announced the paper's suspension the next day without contacting them and without giving them any chance to present their arguments to the CSC’s members.
“We condemn this measure, the way it was taken and the reasons given,” said Clea Kahn-Sriber, the head of RSF’s Africa Desk.
“Known for incisive investigative reporting, L'Evènement is one the leading publications in a country whose media have distinguished themselves by the courage and seriousness of their reporting during the difficult events of the past two years. It would be a pity if the new government yielded to the temptation to censor so soon after the restoration of democracy.”
Accusing the CSC of “ill will,” Bitiou said: “There is a dangerous shift in the CSC, which has gone from being a media regulator to ‘media judge.’ In its allegations, the CSC confuses many things or tries to use them clumsily to justify its decision.”
Defending his magazine’s record and the criticized articles, he said: “I can understand that some people (...) may have been annoyed by this information but it is not wrong (...) What do people expect of journalists unless it is making sure their facts are right!”
On 15 October 2015, a month after an abortive coup attempt, the CSC cited the national situation as grounds for calling on the media to “refrain from publishing or broadcasting strategic military or defence information or any other information that could endanger state security or compromise the actions of the defence and security forces in the field.”
Bitiou added: “If what we very roughly put on a map (...) constitutes secrets then we need to be really worried about the failure to protect our secrets!”
Two cases of armed unrest (in November 2014 and September 2015) were contained in Burkina Faso and were followed by a transition to democracy and elections recognised as legitimate. The country is ranked 46th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2015 World Press Freedom Index.