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Burkina Faso suspends VOA, BBC/Africa broadcasts


FILE - A mural is seen, March 1, 2023, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.
FILE - A mural is seen, March 1, 2023, in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso.

Burkina Faso has temporarily suspended the programs of Voice of America and BBC/Africa following the broadcast of news stories about a Human Rights Watch report accusing the Burkinabè army of abuses against civilian populations.

The Superior Council of Communication Thursday ordered the immediate halt of the rebroadcasts and suspension of the programs of both international radio stations for two weeks. Access to the websites and digital platforms of BBC, VOA, and Human Rights Watch was also suspended within Burkina Faso.

“VOA stands by its reporting about Burkina Faso and intends to continue to fully and fairly cover events in that country,” the outlet’s acting director John Lippman said Friday in a statement.

“We ask the government of Burkina Faso to reconsider this troubling decision,” Lippman noted.

A BBC spokesperson had a similar message: “The suspension reduces the BBC’s ability to reach audiences with independent and accurate news. We will continue to report on the region in the public interest and without fear or favour.”

Press freedom groups also condemned the suspension of the two outlets.

“The suspensions extend a pattern of censorship in the country, which has included previous suspensions of several French and local outlets,” Jonathan Rozen, the senior Africa researcher at the Committee to Protect Journalists, told VOA in a statement.

Military-ruled Burkina Faso has in recent months suspended other Western news outlets, including the French television broadcasters LCI and France24, French radio broadcaster Radio France Internationale, the French daily newspaper Le Monde and the French magazine Jeune Afrique.

“Journalists in Burkina Faso should not have to contend with censorship by authorities in addition to challenges of reporting amid insecurity in the country,” Rozen said.

Sadibou Marong, the director of the Reporters Without Borders sub-Saharan Africa bureau, agreed, calling the suspensions “yet another blow to press freedom” in Burkina Faso.

“They [authorities] are using suspensions against those who dare to report freely,” added Marong, who is based in Senegal’s capital Dakar.

Burkina Faso is one of several West African nations in the Sahel region, including Mali and Niger, that have been combating Islamist insurgencies. The military seized power in a 2022 coup, citing the government’s failure to put down a jihadist insurgency that erupted in 2015.

The West African country was once lauded as a regional leader in media freedom.

“It used to really be a success story in terms of press freedom in Africa,” Marong said. But that status came to an end following military coups in January and September 2022, he noted.

The decision to suspend VOA and the BBC comes just one week ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

Some information in this report came from Agence France-Presse, Reuters and The Associated Press.