Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Burundi has missed a unique opportunity to improve its press freedom status following the 2005 democratic election—the first since 1993—and the September 2006 signing of a cease-fire agreement with the last remaining rebel organization. Instead, the government abused its consolidated power and began a targeted crackdown on media outlets critical of government policy. The transitional constitution does provide for freedom of expression, but most media legislation is vague about the offenses for which a journalist may be charged. For example, the 1997 Press Law forbids the dissemination of “information inciting civil disobedience or serving as propaganda for enemies of the Burundian nation during a time of war.” The November 2003 Media Law also provides for harsh fines and prison terms of up to five years for the dissemination of information that insults the president or is defamatory toward other individuals. However, according to the International Crisis Group, a new law is being drafted that would more accurately define the responsibilities and duties of the media.
With the control that the Hutu-dominated ruling party has over government institutions and the disunity of the rival political parties, much of this year’s opposition originated from within the media and civil society. This fact, along with the alleged Tutsi dominance of the media elite, has propelled the government’s harassment and detention of media personnel in 2006. After the exposure of an alleged coup attempt and the subsequent arrest and torture of several prominent opposition leaders, the government directly targeted a number of media outlets that questioned the veracity of the supposed coup attempt. In November, two journalists with the privately owned Radio Publique Africaine (RPA)—a frequent government target in recent years—and the director of Radio Isanganiro—a station backed by the American nongovernmental organization Search for Common Ground—were all charged with “violating state secrecy” and sentenced to prison for publishing information about the alleged coup; all three journalists remained incarcerated at year’s end. In September, following three months of illegal pretrial detention, Aloys Kabura, a reporter with the state-run Agence Burundaise de Presse, was also sentenced to prison for five months for making critical comments about the police’s temporary detention of 30 journalists at a news conference in mid-April. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, this made Burundi Africa’s third leading jailer of journalists for 2006.
Burundi’s only daily newspaper, Le Renouveau, is controlled by the government along with the nation’s sole television station and the only nationally broadcast radio station. Six private publications operate on a weekly basis, while private radio stations broadcast only irregularly and most are restricted to the capital city of Bujumbura. Private ownership tends to be highly concentrated, but outlets do represent a wide range of opinions, and some, like RPA, manage to present diverse and balanced coverage. No government restrictions on internet access are apparent, though the National Communication Council bans websites from “posting documents or other statements by political organizations that disseminate hate or violence,” and owing to economic and infrastructure limitations, less than 1 percent of the population was able to access this new media in 2006.