Freedom of the Press
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Although Mali’s constitution protects the right to free speech and the country’s broadcast and print media have historically ranked among the freest in Africa, recent actions by authorities against journalists have contradicted this past trend. Furthermore, severe punishments for libel still exist under a 1993 law criminalizing slander. Legislation passed in 2000 reduced the maximum penalty for those convicted, but the accused still remain guilty until proven innocent.
Libel laws, though not consistently enforced, were applied in 2007. In March, a court in the capital city of Bamako sentenced Diaby Makoro Camara and Oumar Bouare, respectively the managing editor and editor in chief of the private monthly Kabako, to four-month suspended prison terms and fines of approximately US$100 for defaming the minister of planning, Marimantia Diarra. The 2006 article that instigated these charges reported that the minister had allegedly attempted to threaten his former fiancée with physical force. On June 14, authorities arrested Bassirou Kassim Minta, a teacher who assigned his 10th-grade students a fictitious essay about a presidential sex scandal, on charges of offending the president, along with Seydine Oumar Diarra, editor of the private daily Info-Matin, who reported on the story. The paper’s director received an eight-month suspended sentence and a fine of US$450. On June 20, authorities arrested four other editors whose papers republished the story. Diarra was forced to serve 13 days in prison and to pay a fine of approximately US$400; the sentences for the other four editors were eventually suspended, although they were forced to pay similar fines. Minta was sentenced to two months in prison, fined approximately US$1,200, and banned from teaching.
There were other instances during 2007 in which authorities intimidated journalists. In March, the private station Radio Jamakan was evicted from its office in a government-owned building just one month before presidential elections were scheduled following the station’s coverage of the opposition. In July, a broadcaster with Radio Kafo-Kan, a community station based in the south, was attacked by a local politician for allegedly incorrectly reporting the politician’s share of votes won in the June parliamentary election. The government does not restrict access to foreign media.
Today, there are more than 100 private radio stations and over 50 independent newspapers, many of which openly criticize the government. Given the adult literacy rate of only 24 percent, the majority of Malians rely on broadcast media, and private or community radio stations provide a critical service. The country’s only national television station remains under state control but generally provides balanced political coverage. Although the government also does not restrict internet use, less than 1 percent of the population was able to access this electronic resource in 2007.