Freedom of the Press
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Key Developments in 2016:
- In February, the official media regulatory agency issued a one-month suspension against the newspaper L’Evènement after it published the locations of obsolete military armories, information the regulator deemed military secrets. A court later lifted the suspension after the newspaper appealed.
In September and October, journalists and technicians from state-owned outlets held strike actions to protest pressure by members of the new administration of President Roch Marc Christian Kaboré, and to demand better working conditions.
- In June, a court ordered the Journal L’Opinion newspaper to pay a fine of 1 million CFA francs ($1,700) and an additional 3.5 million CFA francs ($6,000) in damages and legal fees over an article claiming that a prominent lawyer and civil society activist had benefitted from an illegal land transaction during the country’s recent political transition. It was the first case prosecuted under 2015 media legislation that decriminalized defamation.
The environment for media has improved since mass protests in 2014 brought an end to former president Blaise Compaoré’s 27 years in power. Since then, defamation has been decriminalized, reporters at the public broadcaster have experienced less political interference, and self-censorship among journalists has eased. Nevertheless, libel convictions still carry onerous financial penalties, journalists experience pressure from government officials, and the economic environment for media workers remains difficult.
In September 2015, a transitional government adopted legislation that abolished prison sentences for libel and other press offenses, but prescribed fines of up to 3 million CFA francs ($5,100) for offenses—enough to put some sanctioned outlets out of business, according to journalists. In the first case to be prosecuted under the new legislation, in June 2016 a court ordered the Journal L’Opinion newspaper to pay a fine of 1 million CFA francs ($1,700) and an additional 3.5 million CFA francs ($6,000) in damages and legal fees over an article claiming that Guy Hervé Kam, a lawyer and civil society activist, had benefitted from an illegal land transaction during the recent political transition.
The official media regulatory agency, the High Council of Communication (CSC), is nominally independent. However, of its nine members, six are state appointees and only three are drawn from professional media groups, giving the government outsized influence over media regulation. In February 2016, the CSC suspended the newspaper L’Evènement for one month after it published locations of obsolete military armories, information the body deemed “military secrets.” However, a court nullified the CSC’s decision after the newspaper appealed.
While political interference at state-owned outlets has decreased since the end of Compaoré’s regime, journalists there still experience pressure from officials. In July 2016, the Autonomous Syndicate of Information and Culture Workers (SYNATIC) condemned Communications Minister Rémis Fulgance Dandjinou for saying that journalists at state media not supportive of the government should resign, and that public broadcasts should prioritize coverage of state officials. In September and October 2016, journalists and technicians from the state-owned newspaper Sidwaya and public broadcaster Radiodiffusion Télévision du Burkina (RTB) held strike actions to protest interference by members of the new administration, including by Dandjinou, and to demand better working conditions. (Separately, Dandjinou holds shares in a relatively new private television station, Burkina Info.)
In February 2016, two employees of the radio station Omega FM—which had been founded by Foreign Minister Alpha Barry, a former journalist—were suspended. While the suspensions were formally issued over professional misconduct, activists claimed they were linked to the journalists’ coverage of an arrest warrant for Guillaume Soro, a prominent Ivorian politician, who was allegedly involved in a failed coup in Burkina Faso that took place in September 2015.
Cases of harassment and physical violence against journalists are generally rare; however, in June 2016, a television reporter was threatened by gendarmes while covering an event.
This country report has been abridged for Freedom of the Press 2017. For background information on press freedom in Burkina Faso, see Freedom of the Press 2016.