3 January 2016

Burundi: SOS Media Burundi's Dangerous Reporting Mission

News is in short supply in Burundi, where the government closed down radio stations eight months ago and most station managers and reporters fled into exile. The journalists who stayed hardly ever go out because of the climate of terror and because they fear arrest or reprisals of other kinds.

Almost the only relief for those in search of news is to be found at SOS Media Burundi, a collective of journalists that emerged spontaneously within 48 hours of the destruction of the radio stations during the May 2014 coup attempt and which continues to provide anonymous coverage of events in this troubled country.

With a website on which it broadcasts reports via SoundCloud, a Facebook page and a Twitter account, this collective has strict editorial policies, interviewing and reporting the views of all parties, reporting only the verified facts and refraining from any editorializing,

Equipped with smartphones, its journalists report what they see in their neighbourhoods, covering violence against civilians, arbitrary arrests and shelling. They also report what officials say at news conferences. The reports (including text and photos) are discussed and vetted before publication.

SOS Media Burundi has become the leading source of information about what is happening in Burundi for many international media, NGOs and foreign governments.

As Burundi spirals down into civil war and the security forces increasingly become a leading predator of freedoms, the net is steadily closing on the journalists still on the ground, those still trying to use their anonymity to cover the constant arbitrary arrests and beatings in detention.

Burundi is ranked 145th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2015 press freedom index, which covered events in 2014. The arbitrary closure of news media and persecution of journalists accompanying the political crisis that erupted in 2015 means that Burundi is unlikely to keep this position in the 2016 index.

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