Just a few days in April and May of 2015 sufficed to eliminate media pluralism almost entirely in Burundi, a country renowned for the professionalism of its news media and cited as an example in Africa. Five independent radio stations and one independent TV channel were destroyed and around 100 journalists were threatened and forced to flee the country. Still immersed in daily violence and with now ubiquitous hate messages, the Burundian people have an increasingly urgent need for pluralistic and credible news coverage.
Aware of this need, all of the Burundian privately-owned news media, both those based in Burundi and those outside the country, the National Council for Communication (CNC, Burundi’s media regulator) and around 20 international organizations that support the media took part in the 23-24 March round table in Brussels. The aim was to reestablish a dialogue between those working inside Burundi and those based abroad, and to identify the recommendations that should be made to both the Burundian authorities and the international community so that freedom of information is restored in Burundi.
After a lively and honest discussion, agreement was reached on the following observations and undertakings:
a. General comments
All participants recognized and stressed the need to:
1. Ensure that a generation of trained and skilled journalists are able to continue to work and provide the Burundian public with access to pluralistic and professional news coverage.
2. Reject, with the utmost firmness, the hate messages that are becoming increasingly widespread and remind state and privately-owned media journalists of their ethical and legal responsibilities as regards the content they disseminate.
3. Recognize the harmful consequences of the current absence of the right of Burundians to have access to pluralistic and credible news coverage.
1. The CNC reaffirmed its commitment to perform its constitutional mission of regulating the state and privately-owned media, to guarantee media pluralism and to encourage the reopening of all media outlets.
2. The journalists reaffirmed their commitment to respect the rules of journalism in their work, without any partisanship, and to guarantee the public’s right to news and information. They plan to draft a manifesto stressing their determination to practice journalism that conforms to the rules of professional ethics. Everyone will be free to sign the manifesto.
c. Recommendations to the international community
International partners are urged:
- In their contacts with the Burundian authorities:
1. To ask the Burundian authorities to guarantee the population’s constitutional right to have access to news and information.
2. To advocate the restoration of media pluralism and, in particular, the reopening of the privately-owned radio stations.
3. To ask the public prosecutor’s office to end all arbitrary proceedings against journalists and media companies.
4. To request that the safety of journalists in their work is guaranteed.
5. To insist on the importance of getting Radio Télévision Nationale du Burundi (RTNB) to properly perform its role as a public service broadcaster.
- In their actions in the short term
1. To undertake to provide rapid support for current and future media initiatives (both inside and outside Burundi) that allow Burundians to have access to news and information, pending normalization of the situation.
2. To make standard assistance procedures more flexible, adapting them to a very exceptional crisis situation, and to take account of the difficult situation of journalists who have fled abroad and those still in Burundi, and the difficult situation of their media outlets.
3. To support the media content monitoring conducted inside and outside Burundi and the professionalization of the human resources of the Monitoring Centre of the Central African Media Organization (OMAC).
4. To support and reinforce the National Council for Communication (CNC), so that it can effectively perform its constitutional mission of regulating the state and privately-owned media and guaranteeing media freedom.
- In their mid-term actions
1. To support the creation of a framework for meetings and dialogue among media sector actors (including the CNC) and for interaction with the authorities.
2. To help rebuild the broadcast media technically and financially when they are allowed to resume operating.
3. To support activities aimed at making the media more aware of their democratic role as regards the various components of Burundian society (political actors, security forces and so on).
4. To work for the rapid and notable reenergizing of the Burundian Union of Journalists (UBJ), Burundian Press Observatory (OPB) and Burundian Association of Radio Broadcasters (ABR), all currently in a difficult situation.
Signatories of this Statement
Professional organizations representing the Burundian media
Burundian Press Observatory (OPB), Burundian Union of Journalists (UBJ) and Burundian Association of Radio Broadcasters (ABR)
Radio Isanganiro, Radio Bonesha FM, Radio Télévision Renaissance, Radio Rema FM, Iwacu media group, Radio Publique Africaine and SOS Médias Burundi
The Burundian media regulator
National Council for Communication
National and international organizations that support the media
Panos Great Lakes Institute, University of Burundi (Master’s in Journalism), ReSIC, Global Forum for Media Development (GFMD), Free Press Unlimited (FPU), La Benevolencija, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Deutsche Welle Akademie (DKA), International Media Support (IMS), Radio Sans Frontière, RNW Media, Fondation Hirondelle, Vita, 11.11.11, EURAC, European Federation of Journalists (EFJ), International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), Rory Peck Trust, Protect Defenders, Periactes, Kintambo and X2
Pierre Martinot – [email protected]