Burkina Faso’s media regulator clamps down heavily on critical media

Burkina Faso’s media regulator has descended heavily on several media outlets, with two media organisations suspended in less than 24 hours.

On June 19, 2024, the Conseil supérieur de la communication (CSC), announced the suspension of the bi-monthly investigative newspaper, L’Evènement, following an article published on June 10, 2024. The article accused a certain Captain Prospère Boena, whom the paper claimed to be a close associate of Burkina Faso’s military leader, Captain Ibrahim Traoré, of embezzling 400 million FCFA (about $651,436).

According to the CSC, the article contained unfounded allegations and defamatory insinuations without clear evidence, violating article 122 of Law 057-2015/CNT, which regulates the print media in Burkina Faso. Consequently, the CSC suspended the newspaper for one month from all its publication platforms.

In response, L’Evènement publicly condemned the sanction as grotesque, unjust, and abusive. The newspaper stated its intention to challenge the decision in court.

On the same day, L’Evènement got suspended, the CSC suspended the “7 Infos,” a show on the private television channel BF1 for two weeks. The suspension followed a segment where columnist Kalifara Séré questioned the recency of images showing the Head of State donating blood. The CSC deemed Séré’s comments defamatory. The regulator cited a breach of ethics as the reason for the suspension and ordered the removal of the “offending” parts of the show from BF1’s platforms.

Meanwhile, Séré has disappeared after he was summoned for interrogation. BF1 expressed concern over his whereabouts, saying that he had become unreachable, with his family confirming that they were unable to reach him too.

The CSC, also on the same day, ordered the online newspaper, Lefaso.net, to immediately remove an article titled “Support Meeting for the Transition: “We don’t want to hear about another President, the one we know is Ibrahim Traoré” (“Meeting de soutien à la transition: « Nous ne voulons pas entendre parler d’un autre président, celui que nous connaissons, c’est Ibrahim Traoré).

The CSC indicted two other articles which it said “contain unverified information and misinformation,” and accused the newspaper of failing to moderate user comments, inciting hatred, and publishing unverifiable information. On June 5, 2024, representatives from Lefaso.net acknowledged these issues and committed to enhancing their editorial processes and moderation practices, after a summon by the CSC to explain the shortcomings identified.

These sanctions came a day after the June 18, 2024 suspension of French media outlet, TV5 Monde-Afrique, for six months over alleged publication of, “tendentious statements bordering on disinformation”.

The recent suspension of the French media outlet TV5 Monde-Afrique, coupled with similar actions against other local media, is troubling.

Press freedom in Burkina Faso is significantly declining, as highlighted by the Norbert Zongo National Press Centre’s 2024 report, which gave the country its lowest score ever (1.96 out of 4).

It is important for all actors to act with moderation in these difficult times, by putting the best interests of the Burkinabè people at the heart of their actions. It is urgent to create a conducive environment for productive relationship between the media and the State with a view to preserving democratic values and fundamental human rights. To enhance press freedom in Burkina Faso and ensure a more democratic media environment, the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) makes the following recommendations:

  •  The CSC reverse all suspensions against all media outlets immediately
  • We also call on the authorities to account for Kalifara Séré immediately
  • Create formal fora where government officials and media representatives can discuss disputes and build mutual trust, ensuring media concerns are heard and addressed promptly.
  • Reform existing laws that restrict press freedom, such as the ones used to justify recent media suspensions, and include media professionals in the legislative process to ensure fairer regulations.
  • Support independent media outlets and promote investigative journalism to enhance transparency and accountability.
  • Restructure the CSC to operate independently from government influence, focusing on protecting press freedom and ensuring balanced media oversight.

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