Burkina Faso Banning Free Press 'Bit By Bit', Says France 24 Journalist After Broadcaster's Suspension


Washington — The journalist whose interview with a terrorist organization resulted in Burkina Faso suspending France 24 has spoken with VOA about what he says is a decline in media freedoms in the country.

Burkina Faso's military government suspended the international broadcaster after it aired an excerpt of an interview with the head of a regional al-Qaida affiliate earlier this month.

The journalist who conducted the interview, Wassim Nasr, told VOA that the Burkinabe leadership has been looking for a reason to shut down the network as part of an ongoing effort to control the flow of information in the country.

"When we speak to Burkinabe journalists or human rights activists or social or civil society activists, they all feel that banning free press is happening today, bit by bit," Nasr told VOA. "And they are very scared of speaking out about things that are happening and what's going wrong in the country."

VOA reached out to Burkinabe authorities for comments, but inquiries went unanswered at the time of publication.

Burkina Faso government spokesman Jean-Emmanuel Ouedraogo said the France 24 interview with the head of al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb, amounted to acting as a mouthpiece for the terror group.

"Without contesting the freedom of the channel's editorial choices, the government nevertheless questions the ethics that govern the professional practice of journalism on France 24," he said.

The suspension has also been met with criticism from press freedom organizations, including Reporters Without Borders, which called the move "a blatant attack on press freedom" and urged the government to lift the suspension immediately.

The suspension follows a move by the government to suspend the French radio broadcaster Radio France Internationale in December for its reporting on terror attacks.

Dieudonne Zoungrana, editor-in-chief of the daily newspaper Aujourd'hui au Faso, told AFP the climate for journalists in the country is very tense, but said the country is in a time of war and the government is naturally hesitant to give a platform to the enemy.

"With this axe that fell on France 24, it is also a warning shot for the local press, for the national press, that must be a bit careful," Zoungrana told Agence France-Presse.

"Because in the background, it is based on how to treat information in times of war, how it should be treated. Do we have to say everything? Do we have to give everyone the floor? There are some problems that are currently being raised."

Nasr said the interview with the terrorist group al-Qaida in the Islamic Maghreb head Abu Obeida Youssef al-Anabi, also known as Yezid Mebarek, was nearly a year in the making. He sent Mebarek 17 recorded questions and Mebarek responded with voiced answers.

Nasr said France 24 only played 20 seconds of the audio as proof that the terror leader was making the statements. He added that he was careful to put Mebarek's statements in context and include contradictory facts when necessary.

"I analyzed what he said. I picked out the interesting informational parts of what he said. I contextualized it and even contradicted him on many issues," Nasr said.

For example, when Mebarek said AQIM was not responsible for a massacre in Solhan, Burkina Faso, which took the lives of at least 138 people, Nasr said his sources indicate it was, indeed, a unit of AQIM which was "undisciplined."

"I said on screen that he was wrong, that they are responsible, despite the fact that he denied it," Nasr said.

Nasr said that for a journalist, talking to an extremist leader is important in order to help viewers understand their ideology and tactics. It is not equivalent to justifying their actions or giving them a platform to recruit.

"As far as I am concerned, talking to jihadists and interrogating them and asking them questions is part of my job," he said. "We are journalists, so we have to talk to all parties. I am not the spokesperson of the French Government, neither of the Burkinabe government, neither of any government. It is my job to talk to all parties."

Some information in this article came from Agence France-Presse.

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