The French public broadcasters Radio France Internationale (RFI) and France 24 will soon no longer be seen and heard in Mali, if it is up to the military transitional government of the West African country. In an online statement, the government writes that the channels are spreading ‘false accusations’ about the Malian army.
The straw that broke the camel’s eye was the attention that RFI and France 24 paid this week to an investigation of Human Rights Watch† The human rights organization notes that Malian forces have killed at least 71 civilians since December last year. The organization speaks of a dramatic increase in the number of victims due to military violence.
RFI previously spoke with dozens of Malians who were allegedly mistreated by soldiers. In some cases, according to witnesses, Russian troops were also involved.
Two military coups have taken place in Mali in the past two years. The current transitional government is following a nationalistic course and wants to get rid of what they see as excessive interference from the old colonizer France. That country recently decided to suspend its military mission in the country. Although the authorities deny it, there are strong indications that the Malian armed forces are assisted by Russian mercenaries.
‘Serious human rights violations’
United Nations Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet said in a speech last week that she was concerned about reports of very serious violations of international human rights by security forces.
The Malian authorities contradict this and say it is a media hype. They call the accusations a cleverly devised strategy aimed at destabilizing the transitional government. They compare the “criminal intentions” of RFI and France 24 with the infamous radio station Mille Collines, which fueled the genocide in Rwanda in 1994 by spreading hate speech.
Support for regime
Part of the Malians applauds the hard line against the west. There are regular demonstrations in support of the regime in the streets of the capital Bamako, often accompanied by anti-French slogans.
I am very concerned. This is a major threat to freedom of expression.
It is becoming increasingly difficult for journalists in Mali to work. Foreign journalists no longer receive press accreditation and Malian journalists apply self-censorship, says Tidiani Togola, founder of the media organization Tuwindi, which is committed to democracy and development. “I am very concerned. This is a major threat to freedom of expression.”
Togola understands that the allegations against the Malian army are hitting the country hard. “All Malians are behind the armed forces, it is our army. In the fight against terror they die for us. But then it is precisely the responsibility of the state to check whether the allegations are true or not. And if they are not true then they have to come up with evidence.”
Malians without news provision
If RFI and France 24 are no longer allowed to broadcast, Malians will be deprived of an important source of news. According to Togola, they are the most listened-to channels in the country. In addition to French-language programs, RFI also broadcasts in Bambara, the national language of Mali. “A huge number of Malians will soon be without news.”
France Médias Monde, the international branch of the French public broadcaster, says in a press release regret the decision and “protest vehemently against the baseless allegations.” The European Union calls the proposed measure by the Malian government unacceptable, while France speaks of a major threat to press freedom.
When RFI and France 24 go black is unclear. France Médias Monde is investigating whether they can still prevent their channels from actually being taken off the air.