Burkina Faso had until recently been considered as one of the success stories of Africa regarding freedom of the press. But growing violence and political instability linked to the coups in January and September 2022 have had a very negative impact on journalists’ security and access to information.
Burkina Faso enjoys a dynamic, professional and pluralist media environment. It has 80 newspapers (including Sidwaya, L’Evénement, and Le Pays), 185 radio stations (including Omega FM), around 30 TV channels (including Radiodiffusion, Télévision du Burkina, and BF1) and 161 news websites (including faso.net and Burkina 24). The culture of investigative journalism is fairly widespread and the first online newspaper dedicated to investigative reporting was created at the start of 2023. But the deterioration of the security and political environment has brought an increase in outside pressure and self-censorship. The news television channels RFI and France 24 were suspended until further notice in December 2022 and March 2023 respectively.
Although journalistic freedom is a reality in Burkina Faso, the authorities tend to prioritise combatting threats to public safety over freedom of information. In May 2021, a French reporter and a Belgian producer, who had come to report on a story and who were accredited, were deported on the unfounded grounds that they posed a “threat to state security”. Cases of intimidation of journalists are on the rise. During the two coups in 2022, soldiers stationed themselves at the entrance to the national TV channel, controlling who went in and out, and forcing journalists to read their communiqués. The military junta has also suspended media outlets and deported foreign journalists, including the correspondents of the French newspapers Le Monde and Libération in April 2023.
Press freedom and the right to information have been guaranteed by the constitution since 1991. Defamation is no longer punishable by imprisonment but is subject to fines so steep as to force the closure of the media outlets concerned. As a result of the decline in the security situation, the criminal code was amended in 2019 so as to criminalise the dissemination of information on military operations in order to “not undermine troop morale”, which became punishable by up to 10 years in prison, and heavy fines, thereby encouraging self-censorship. In general, it is becoming increasingly difficult to access information on security and military matters, and the “dangerous” parts of the country are turning into “no-news zones”.
Burkina Faso’s media operate in a precarious environment, with a small readership and sparse advertising. The Covid-19 public health crisis triggered a sharp fall in circulation and in advertising revenue.
The most sensitive issue in Burkina Faso is religion. Extremely active religious groups monitor and exert pressure on public debate, posing a threat to freedom of expression, potentially leading to self-censorship.
The safety of journalists has suffered major setbacks in recent years. In April 2021, two Spanish journalists, David Beriain and Roberto Fraile, were killed while reporting in eastern Burkina Faso. They were the first such deaths in more than 20 years. In March 2022, a radio station in the north of the country was the target of a terrorist attack. Areas classified as dangerous are very hard to access. Violence against journalists has also increased, whether from armed groups or the authorities. In February 2023, the leader of a pro-junta group was given a two-year suspended prison sentence for uttering death threats against two journalists. It is not usual for reporters to be threatened or subjected to violence during demonstrations.