RSF condemns France 24’s suspension by Burkina Faso’s junta
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the decision by Burkina Faso’s military junta on 27 March to suspend local broadcasting of the French international TV news channel France 24 after the channel reported some of the answers that the leader of a Jihadi armed group had given to its questions. This is yet another blow to the right to news and information, RSF says.
France 24’s signal is no longer being retransmitted in Burkina Faso because a report broadcast on 6 March included some of the responses that the head of Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) gave to questions from a France 24 reporter.
This latest suspension follows the government’s announcement on 3 December that broadcasting by Radio France Internationale (RFI) was suspended throughout the country “until further notice” because it had broadcast a “message intimidating the population that was attributed to a terrorist leader.”
“This decision is a new attack on the freedom to inform in Burkina Faso. We strongly condemn this suspension without prior notice, which comes just a few months after the ban on RFI and further penalises Burkinabé citizens, who are now deprived of another important source of information. In the interest of all and in the name of the right to pluralistic news and information, this decision must be rescinded at once and local broadcasting by France 24 and RFI must be restored.”
Burkina Faso’s government said that, by interviewing the head of AQIM, France 24 had acted "as a public relations agency for these terrorists" and had provided "a space for legitimising terrorist actions and hate speech”.
In a press release, France 24 pointed out it never allowed the head of AQIM to “speak on the air directly” and that it took care to report what he said in a format that allowed “the necessary distancing and contextualization.” The interview was not broadcast, and only written extracts were reported. France 24 also pointed out that, thanks to this interview, it had been possible for the first time to confirm that Olivier Dubois – the French journalist who was kidnapped in April 2021 in Gao, in northeastern Mali and was held for 711 days, until released on 20 March – had indeed been “held by AQIM”.
France 24 already in the junta’s sights
The suspension did not come as a surprise. France 24 had already been threatened. Its correspondent in Burkina Faso, Bangaly Touré, was summoned by the Superior Council for Communication (CSC) on 24 January and was questioned about an “error” in a news item on the TV channel’s scrolling news ticker on 16 January. It reported that, according to the government, 50 women had been kidnapped by “Islamist rebels” in the north of the country on 12 and 13 January. The government had said they were "armed terrorist groups" not Islamist rebels, the CSC pointed out.
Touré told RSF that he responded that he was not the author of that news ticker item and that France 24 had just translated and reported a passage from a Reuters dispatch. Government spokesman Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo nonetheless called him the next day and threatened to suspend the channel if they made a similar mistake.
Burkina Faso following in Mali’s footsteps
In Mali, Burkina Faso’s neighbour, local broadcasting by RFI and France 24 has already been suspended indefinitely by the country’s High Authority for Communication (HAC) since 27 April 2022. The UN said it was “deeply dismayed” by the decision and asked Mali’s junta to rescind it.
Although the broadcast signals have been cut, both RFI and France 24 can be still be accessed by means of a mirror website created by RSF as part of its Operation Collateral Freedom, which was launched in 2015 and is currently using mirror sites to circumventing the blocking of more than 80 news sites in 24 countries.