Nairobi, May 7, 2018–Authorities in Burundi should immediately lift a six-month licensing suspension imposed on radio broadcasts of the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of America (VOA), the Committee to Protect Journalists said today. Burundi’s National Communication Council (CNC), the media industry regulator, on May 4 accused the two stations of breaching the country’s media laws and professional ethics and ordered the stations’ licensing suspended, according to a statement from the regulator. A government agency that regulates telecommunication subsequently turned off their signals, according to media reports.
« These actions are a transparent attempt to silence the media during this politically sensitive period, when Burundians are in most urgent need of information to make important political decisions, » said CPJ Africa Program Coordinator Angela Quintal from New York. « It is not too late to rethink this ill-informed decision and the regulator should immediately lift the suspension and allow the press to operate freely. »
Karenga told CPJ that the decision to suspend the media outlets had nothing to do with the upcoming referendum but was about ensuring stations meet regulatory standards, especially with regard to balance. He added that the stations had the opportunity to appeal directly to the regulator or to the courts.
The VOA condemned the suspension and said its content would be « available in Kirundi and Kinyarwanda via shortwave channels, on the Internet and on FM transmitters located in neighboring countries. » In a separate statement to CPJ, the VOA said that it was « exploring legal options that would permit its broadcasting operations to reopen in Burundi as quickly as possible. »
In an emailed statement, the BBC told CPJ that it was « disappointed » by the government action and said it would respond appropriately against « any broadcast » found to be falling short of « strict editorial guidelines. »
The CNC also issued warnings in the May 4 statement to Radio France International (RFI) and two local, privately owned radio stations, Isanganiro and CCIB-FM Plus. RFI was accused of broadcasting dishonest reports about the referendum. The CNC said that the two local radio stations failed to verify sources in their reporting and did not stick to the programming schedule they had submitted to the regulator.
Yves Rocle, Africa director of RFI, told CPJ that he was not precisely sure of the accusations facing the station but « apparently » a guest’s comments displeased the CNC, though he did not specify which guest.
CPJ could not reach CCIB-FM Plus or Isanganiro for comment.
Burundi once had a robust press but the media environment has become hostilein recent years. Between April 2015 and August 2015, at least 100 Burundian journalists fled into exile, following attacks, threats and intimidation during a political crisis that included an attempted coup, according to CPJ research.
CPJ is an independent, nonprofit organization that works to safeguard press freedom worldwide.