By ordering its closure for allegedly inciting hatred, Bamako’s governor prevented the station from commenting on the first-round results, in which President Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta was declared the winner but without enough votes to avoid a run-off against his leading opponent, Soumaïla Cissé.
Radio Renouveau FM was closed “until further notice” and seals were placed over its entrance a few hours after the governor announced that he had to “preserve public order and calm” because of the comments made during the station’s “Cards on the Table” programme the day before.
Comments by programme host Mohamed Youssouf Bathily (also known as Ras Bath), a prominent opposition activist who is part of the Cissé campaign team, constituted “incitement to hatred and revolt,” the governor claimed.
“It is clear from Mali’s legislation that the governor cannot act as media regulator and does not have the authority to close a radio station,” said Arnaud Froger, the head of RSF’s Africa desk. “Mali has legal procedures and a High Authority for Communication (HAC) to examine any breaches of journalistic ethics. We ask the HAC to take charge of this case and we call on the authorities not to obstruct the work of the media, especially during an election, as they promised. The authorities must order the reopening of this radio station pending a decision on the substance of this case by the competent authority.”
Ras Bath often accuses the Malian authorities of corruption during his very popular programme. On the evening of 1 August, he claimed that election fraud had taken place in several localities, blaming the president and his allies and accusing them of taking advantage of widespread poverty to buy votes.
The governor did not refer this case to the HAC, or consult it, although the HAC is the only regulatory body with the power to issue a ruling on the legality of content in the media. When contacted by RSF, the HAC dodged the issue, saying that it was “not in a position to evaluate the appropriateness of this decision or the level of security in the country.”
Under Mali’s 2012 law on commercial broadcast media, only the HAC or the minister responsible for “territorial administration” (article 63) can suspend a media outlet and, in the latter case, the suspension can be ordered only on the grounds of a “threat to the interests of national defence or national unity” and when the HAC has given its approval.
Mali’s Union of Free Radio and TV Broadcasters (URTEL) has issued a statement voicing “stupefaction” and calling on the Malian authorities to “respect the HAC’s prerogatives.” The National Union of Reporters voiced its “unreserved condemnation” of the closure.
After three journalists from the French TV channel TV5 Monde were briefly arrested on 22 July on their arrival to cover the election, RSF reminded the authorities of their duty to guarantee unobstructed media coverage. When reached by RSF last week, communication minister Modibo Touré promised that, “no journalists will be blocked in the course of their work covering the election.”
Mali is ranked 115th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2018 World Press Freedom Index.