3 May 2017

Burundi: Differing Views On Press Freedom in Burundi

Burundi's Media Council says journalists work under good conditions, while the Press House, a media organization, thinks the situation has worsened. DW's Apollinaire Niyirora in Bujumbura has been talking to both sides.

Media houses around the globe marked World Press Freedom Day on May 3 with a series of publications on the difficult working conditions of their colleagues. But in the east African state of Burundi, local tabloids were silent on the issue, apart from a few mentions by radio and television stations.

Many journalists in Burundi complain that their rights are constantly violated but the National Media Council, a government institution, disagrees.

The Press House, a media organization, said the rights of journalists and media organizations have been restricted since the outbreak of the crisis in 2015 with the failed coup plot against President Pierre Nkurunziza.

"The situation in the country in the last two years has impacted on our profession," said Denise Mugugu, chairwoman of the Burundi Press House. She added that press freedom in the country has declined.

"The media was put in difficulties after the 2015 failed coup plot. Some media houses have not been working since then and some radio stations remain closed. Only three radio stations have reopened and this does not only have an impact on press freedom, but also on the life of media professionals," Mugugu said.

According to her, journalists cannot report on issues that the government deems sensitive. Although many journalists practice self-censorship, some still cannot escape the whip of the government.

"When we talk about press freedom, we should also understand that journalists are human beings. Difficult or scary situations can affect their subconscious minds," Mugugu said.

The Burundian National Media Council has denied all allegations of harassment against journalists, claiming the Council has in fact been defending press freedom. "Except in the case of Jean Bigirimana, I think journalists are not being maltreated," said Gabriel Bihumugani, vice president and spokesman of the Council. "The National Media Council is doing its best so that press freedom in Burundi is guaranteed."

Jean Bigirimana disappeared in July 2016 and his whereabouts are still unknown. Another journalist, Christophe Nkezabahizi, who worked for the national radio and television station, was found dead in October 2015, along with his entire family.

"We face challenges in our work, we took refuge here [at the Press House]," said Leon Masengo, manager of Bonesha FM, which was destroyed and shut down in the aftermath of the failed coup. Masengo and his team have since been working from the Press House.

"We were chased from our office. It's clear that leaders of this country don't want us to continue our activities to serve the citizens. They don't want us to report the wrongdoings and crimes taking place here and there, committed by authorities. We face a lot of difficulties," he said.

Since May 2015, five private radio stations have been destroyed or closed. Just two have reopened.

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