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Burkina Faso: Study on the situation of freedom of the press presented

On the International Press Freedom Day, 3 May 2015, a new study on press freedom in Burkina Faso was presented. An improvement is discernible, but so are many tasks for the future.

“There has been progress in the area of freedom of the press, but we must remain vigilant, we must not let up in our attention”, is the conclusion that Jean-Claude Méda, President of the Centre National de Presse – Norbert Zongo (CNP-NZ), draws after the presentation of the study on the situation of freedom of the press in Burkina Faso.

The CNP-NZ is an association of publishers’ organisations, journalists’ associations and trade unions. It is one of the most important lobby organisations for the interests of journalists and media vis-à-vis the state and society in Burkina Faso. Among other things, the Centre de Presse works to improve backward press laws and to ensure that journalists in Burkina Faso are paid appropriately.

In 2014, the Academy supported the activities of the CNP-NZ and financed workshops with representatives of all social groups on the reform of press legislation and the right of access to information. The main focus was on the preparation of a study on the situation of press freedom in Burkina Faso. This study was presented by the Centre National de Presse on 3 May 2015, International Press Freedom Day, in the Burkinabe capital of Ouagadougou.

Many small steps forward

The most important results: fewer journalists in prison, fewer threats to journalists, greater press diversity overall. In other words, there are now more press organs than two years ago, but there are still violent attacks on journalists and press houses.

The study examined the years 2013 and 2014. A representative cross-section of journalists, publishers and executives at radio and television stations were interviewed. A second survey is related to this: A random sample of the Burkinabe population in the capital and the provinces.

In the middle of the survey period, a popular uprising broke out that led to the departure of the long-time president of Burkina Faso, Blaise Compaoré. A great challenge for the social science team. “We decided to include an additional set of questions on the popular uprising,” says Paul Somé André of Nanebor Consult, the organization that conducted the study on behalf of the Academy and the CNP-NZ. “It was important to place the events in a two-year context in order to be able to make statements over the entire period.

Raising awareness of press work

I was shocked to learn that almost a third of those questioned thought that violence against the media was justified,” said Jean-Claude Méda, president of the CNP-NZ. “We need to rethink our strategy and make the public more aware of the importance of freedom of the press.

Thus Méda meets the core goal of the work of the Academy in Burkina Faso. Its activities are aimed at improving the situation of the rural population. The aim is to raise awareness among the population for their rights. A difficult undertaking given the high illiteracy rate of more than 70 percent in Burkina Faso. So far, the journalists have been circling around themselves too much, says Méda. The study shows that both associations and journalists need to broaden their horizons. In the year 2015, the Centre de Presse wants to initiate more actions to explain the function, tasks and situation of the media to the population.

Desire for balanced reporting

For the Akademie, the study, which besides the concrete statements on press freedom also gives an overview of the Burkinabe press landscape, is the basis for further work. The people of Burkina wish for balanced reporting, which is currently not possible in view of widespread censorship and self-censorship. Ten percent of the interviewed journalists stated that their reports and articles are frequently censored. Even more journalists have the scissors in their heads: 35% reported on self-censorship. Alarming values that cast doubt on the quality of Burkina Faso’s media. In addition, there is a chronic underpayment of journalists, especially in the private media. The result is order journalism and courtesy reporting. Extensively researched reports and self-set topics are (still) rare in the Burkinabe press.

The discernible positive tendencies are encouraging. The Academy will continue to closely monitor and accompany developments in Burkina Faso.

About Burkina Faso

Burkina Faso is a state in West Africa. The country was under French colonial rule until 1960 and was called Upper Volta from the beginning of independence until 1984. Burkina Faso is one of the poorest countries in the world. The largest part of the population consists of farmers who run subsistence farms. Due to population growth and climatic conditions, the country is dependent on food imports.

Burkina Faso is subject to an alternating tropical climate, which is primarily influenced by the interaction of the West African monsoon and the trade wind Harmattan, which gives the country’s regions a different length of dry and rainy seasons. The north of the country projects into the Sahel zone. Here the desert is on the advance. The main precipitation falls in summer. The precipitation decreases from south to north. In winter the dry hot Harmattan blows from the Sahara.

After the two main source rivers of the Volta that originate here, the country was called Obervolta until 1984. Then it got the name Burkina Faso: land of the incorruptible.