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Media coverage curtailed after Burkina Faso coup

A protester wearing a Burkina Faso flag attends a protest in Ouagadougou, 16 September 2015
A protester wearing a Burkina Faso flag attends a protest in Ouagadougou, 16 September 2015

REUTERS/Joe Penney

This statement was originally published on rsf.org on 17 September 2015.

Reporters Without Borders is alarmed by the situation in Burkina Faso, where the soldiers who staged a coup d'état yesterday have silenced most privately-owned radio and TV stations and are controlling the state-owned national TV broadcaster, RTB.

The coup began when members of the Presidential Security Regiment (RSP) – former President Blaise Compaoré's praetorian guard – stormed the presidential palace during a cabinet meeting yesterday afternoon and took transitional President Michel Kafando, Prime Minister Isaac Zida and other government officials hostage.

At the same time, other members of the RSP quickly surrounded RTB headquarters, forced privately-owned radio and TV stations in Ouagadougou to suspend broadcasting, and roughed up several journalists.

This morning an army officer read out a statement on the air at RTB announcing that the “National Council for Democracy” had taken power.

“We call on the RSP and the rest of the army to act with restraint towards the civilian population and journalists and to allow the media to operate freely,” said Clea Kahn-Sriber, the head of the Reporters Without Borders Africa desk.

“In their address, the army said they want inclusive elections. For this to be possible, it is essential that all radio and TV stations are allowed to broadcast without any restrictions and that their reporters are free to move about the city in order to cover developments. Firm orders must be issued to this effect.”

Privately-owned broadcasters among RSP's first targets

At Radio Oméga – a leading Ouagadougou-based radio station that provided objective coverage of last October's uprising – RSP soldiers told editor in chief Albert Nagréongo that he should suspend all live broadcasts if he did not want the station to be burned down.

The station's staff complied but the soldiers nonetheless fired in the air as they left and set fire to several motorcycles in the courtyard. The station's personnel and equipment were spared but the soldiers warned that, “if we come back, it will be worse.” Station manager Alpha Barry asked “the heads of the RSP to make their troops see reason.”

At least two privately-owned TV stations were forcibly closed yesterday. At one of them, BF1, members of the RSP manhandled and even whipped journalists and the station is now closed. Privately-owned Burkina Info TV is also closed.

Several journalists were the victims of RSP violence while out reporting. Burkina 24 said one of its reporters was injured when soldiers dispersed a crowd that had gathered in Ouaga 2000, near the presidential palace and not far from BF1's headquarters.

A Droit Libre TV crew that was trying to cover developments was roughed up and its cameras were seized.

The signals of radio stations broadcasting from Ouagadougou, including local retransmission of Radio France Internationale (RFI), were disconnected yesterday. According to some sources, RFI retransmission resumed this morning. Newspapers appeared but it is unlikely that the Ouagadougou population was able to buy them from newsstands.

Ranked 46th out of 180 countries in the 2015 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index, Burkina Faso has enjoyed diverse and good quality media, but they have suffered as a result of the unrest that has shaken the country since President Compaoré's removal last October.

Boureima Ouédraogo, the editor of the newspaper Le Reporter, was sentenced to three years in prison and a fine of 300 euros in a libel case in July – a surprising decision given that, a week before, the transitional government approved a bill decriminalizing media offences.

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