Burkina Faso’s media group’s five-day suspension is too harsh, RSF says

A decision by Burkina Faso’s Higher Council for Communication (CSC) to suspend the Omega media group’s radio and TV programmes for five days, from 8 to 13 June, for alleged errors in its coverage of a terrorist attack is disproportionate, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) says.

The privately-owned group’s TV channel and two radio stations are currently broadcasting nothing but music as a result of the five-day suspension for reporting “false information” about the terrorist attack on 4 June in Solhan, a village in the eastern province of Yagha, which was the deadliest attack since jihadist violence first began in eastern Burkina Faso in 2015.

According to the CSC, there were several mistakes in the Omega group’s coverage, including its report that the terrorists returned to the site of the massacre (although this was confirmed by the village’s mayor) and its report that 40 people were also killed in an attack on a bus.

The group’s media outlets subsequently rowed back on these reports, in the first case after the armed forces issued a different version of the events, and in the second case pointing out that its use of the French conditional tense had made it clear that the attack on the bus was not confirmed.

When reached by RSF, Radio Omega director-general Ouezzin Louis Oulon described the suspension as “disproportionate, arbitrary, hasty and biased” and pointed out that other media carried the same reports without receiving the same treatment. When RSF raised this with the CSC, it replied that other media outlets would be questioned. Radio France Internationale correspondent Yaya Boudani was questioned yesterday about his coverage of the attack.

The suspension is exaggerated,” said Assane Diagne, the director of RSF’s West Africa office. “This media group did not deserve such a punishment, especially as it showed good faith by taking steps to correct the allegedly false information that was broadcast initially. This suspension sends a very disturbing signal to the privately-owned media in a country that is nonetheless regarded as a regional example of respect for press freedom.

Amendments to Burkina Faso’s penal code that were adopted in June 2019 provide for harsh penalties for fake news and for “media coverage of terrorism or the security forces whose consequences could compromise public order and the conduct of security operations.”

Journalism is becoming more dangerous and difficult in Burkina Faso because of the presence of armed groups. Two Spanish journalists, war reporter David Beriain and cameraman Roberto Fraile, were killed in an attack by unidentified gunmen while on their way to report in the Pama national park in the east of the country in late April.

Burkina Faso is ranked 37th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2021 World Press Freedom Index.