Regional update | Amendments to Burundi’s Press Law

26 April 2013 | ResolutionPossible

A new bill is expected to be signed into law in Burundi relating to freedom of the press in the country. If the bill is passed, it means that the government will have the power to restrict certain media broadcasts as well as force journalists to reveal their sources. Under the law, journalists who do not comply face heavy fines.

Press freedom in Burundi (AfricaTimesNews)

Many journalists in Burundi take pride that up until now freedom of the press has been relatively good compared to neighbouring Rwanda, for example. With this bill potentially coming into law, journalists fear that Burnundi is heading the same way. Government control over the media will include ‘unchecked authority to ban publication of any information it deems detrimental based on broad concepts such as national security, public safety, morality, and the national economy‘.

Burundian journalists have been campaigning against the bill, with a petition calling on the government ‘as a last resort to quickly initiate a peaceful all-inclusive dialogue in a bid to have a press law that is more in line with the spirit of the Burundian Constitution.’

We have heard from sources in Bujumbura that the new press law is causing concern that the obligation to reveal sources will kill investigative journalism, and that senior and renowned journalists will be sidelined by the requirement for accredited journalists to complete a masters. Some have pointed out that Burundi is famous for having a lot of laws but poor implementation, so it’s possible that journalists won’t follow the law anyway if the authorities are not in a position to enforce it. The relative silence of the international community and international media has also been noted.

Jean-BenoƮt Falisse, a doctoral student from Oxford University based in Bujumbura, had these comments to share with us:

In this story, the House of Representatives and the Senate clearly appeared as nothing more than rubber-stamping bodies (again). There was barely any debate. I am curious to see whether Burundians will take that failure into account when voting in the next elections in 2015. Burundi is still a very young democracy.

What kinds of stories could incite the Burundian government to exercise this press law?

Given the resolve of Burundi’s journalists and the authorities’ history of failing to enforce laws, will this new law have a significant impact in real terms?

If journalists are forced to fall in line, will they find other ways and channels to investigate and publish stories deemed inappropriate by the government?

What role could, or should, the international media play to support Burundi’s journalists?

Speak Your Mind

Tell us what you're thinking...
and oh, if you want a pic to show with your comment, go get a gravatar!

You must be logged in to post a comment.