Freedom of the Press 2007

Mali is home to one of the freest media environments in Africa, with a constitution that protects the right to free speech and a government that generally respects this right in practice. Nevertheless, severe punishments for libel still exist under a 1993 law that criminalizes slander. Legislation passed in 2000 reduced the maximum penalty for those convicted, but the accused still remain guilty until proven innocent. These libel laws, though rarely implemented, were enforced in April 2006 when a weekly independent newspaper, L’Inter de Bamako, was ordered to pay Diacounda Traore, chairman of an opposition political party, a US$580 fine in response to an article published in February accusing Traore and fellow party leaders of corruption and mismanagement. In addition, two of the paper’s editors were each fined US$135 and ordered to publish the court’s ruling in three local newspapers at their own expense. In 2005, a journalist with Radio Keledou was abducted and severely beaten by a group of unknown assailants. Although investigations into the identity of the perpetrators continue, no charges had yet been filed at the end of 2006. In August 2006, the government chose to inflict a disproportionate punishment on a radio network when it was found to be operating one of its stations without a license. Police shut down the broadcasting capabilities of Radio Kayira’s station in southern Mali and arrested a number of station staff, including the managing director, two station hosts, and a station coordinator. Less than a week after their arrest, all were charged with “opposition to the authority of the State” and sentenced to, and served, a month in prison. Radio Kayira’s defense claimed that they had submitted a license application as early as September 2005 but failed to receive a response from the authorities. The radio station is run by the opposition party African Solidarity for Democracy and Independence, which caused some to believe that the prosecution was politically motivated. Today, there are more than 100 private radio stations and over 50 independent newspapers, many of which openly criticize the government. The country’s only national television station remains under state control but provides balanced political coverage. Access to foreign media and to the internet is unrestricted by the government, though the internet was accessed by less than 1 percent of the population, mostly the very wealthy or well connected.