Journalists in Mali are condemning what they call a grave attack on press freedom, after several armed soldiers came to the offices of a private media house and ordered it not to broadcast an interview with a Tuareg rebel leader. Residents of the capital, Bamako, say the move shows that despite a lot of talk about a transition to civilian rule, real power remains with the military.
A private television company, Africable, began airing spots on Monday about an interview with a leader of the Tuareg separatist group National Movement for the Liberation of Azawad, or MNLA. The program was to run on Tuesday evening, but hours before the planned broadcast, armed soldiers arrived at Africable’s Bamako office and told managers not to show the interview.
The soldiers also complained about other programming on Africable they said contained elements insulting to the Malian army.
Africable cancelled its broadcast of the MNLA interview. VOA contacted Africable in Bamako but an employee there said the agency did not want to comment, that it did not want to "attract publicity" about the matter.
A civilian transitional government is in place in Mali and the regional bloc ECOWAS last week officially declared its "non-recognition" of the junta that seized power in a March coup d’état. But journalists in Bamako say this week’s incident demonstrates that soldiers still rule.
Manan Koné, president of Mali’s national press club and director of a weekly newspaper, said, “We don't know just what the civilian government is doing here. If you’ve got a functioning government in place you can’t have incidents like this.” He added, “The civilian government is supposed to guarantee a return to constitutional rule, he says, but since their arrival we’ve seen it’s been anything but.”
Koné said the people have put a great deal of hope in the transitional prime minister, Cheikh Modibo Diarra, and said the leader must fulfill his commitment to the people.
Ibrahim Coulibaly, a Bamako-based journalist and vice president of an editors’ association, said soldiers must not be allowed to block journalists from doing their jobs.
“Tuesday’s incident shows that real power is in the hands of the military,” he said. “For the moment the prime minister has not faced up to his responsibilities. It seems as if the civilian government continues to back everything the military does.”
The Malian authorities will investigate the incident at Africable, according to a government communiqué released on Thursday evening local time. “The government wants to add that it did not authorize anyone to block any broadcast on Africable or any other television station,” the statement said.
For Malian journalist Coulibaly, broadcasting an interview with MNLA would be a positive thing. "It would allow Malians and the international community to hear MNLA’s true motivations," he said.
He echoed the view of other Malians -- that the military probably worried that the MNLA member would give information putting the army in a bad light. “The military was afraid of revelations about the conduct of the Malian army in northern Mali."
The Tuareg rebels launched their latest rebellion in the north in January. Fighting alongside other armed groups they were able to push out the Malian army over several weeks. Some Malians have criticized the army for failing to defend the territory.
Reporters said they don’t blame their colleagues at Africable for not running the MNLA interview, given that they were threatened by armed soldiers.