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Burundi Blocks Broadcasts from VOA, BBC and Expand Restrictions on their Operations

Burundi's President Pierre Nkurunziza, said the news organizations were banned for spreading falsehoods

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Television director of Burundi's National Radio and Television, Nestor Bankumukunzi, poses in the studio in Bujumbura on May 15,2015. VOA

Burundi will continue to block broadcasts from two international media organizations and expand restrictions on their operations, the government announced Friday.

At a meeting in Bujumbura, the president of the National Council of Communication, Nestor Bankumukunzi, said the British Broadcasting Corp. and the Voice of America are no longer allowed to broadcast, effective immediately. The ban is indefinite and extends to journalists, both foreign and domestic, who provide information to either broadcaster.

“We are alarmed that reporters in Burundi are now forbidden to communicate with VOA and believe these continuing threats to our journalists undermine press freedom in the country,” VOA Director Amanda Bennett said. “We stand with the people of Burundi against those who are restricting their access to accurate and reliable news and information.”

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The BBC condemned the decision, calling it “a serious blow against media freedom.” VOA

The BBC condemned the decision, calling it “a serious blow against media freedom.”

Last May, the Burundi government suspended both news organizations for six months, a week before holding a referendum on a new constitution. The outlets have been off the air since.

Rachel Nicholson, a researcher for Amnesty International, said Burundi’s government is angry at the broadcasters for different reasons.

The government was upset by a documentary the BBC broadcast last year, she said, about members of Burundi’s intelligence service operating secret sites where dissidents are detained and tortured.

BBC, VOA, burundi
Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza speaks after signing for a new constitution adopted by a referendum in Bugendana, Burundi, on June 7, 2018. The change will allow Nkurunziza to run for office twice more in seven-year terms from 2020. VOA

Burundi has accused VOA of employing a journalist who opposes the government, Nicholson added. Patrick Nduwimana, the former director of Bonesha FM Radio in Burundi, is “wanted for participating in deadly violence that preceded the May attempted coup,” the National Council of Communications wrote in Friday’s statement.

“I think it’s really worrying to see the government personalize attacks on radio stations. They have such an important role to play, particularly BBC and VOA, particularly in the absence of independent Burundian radio stations operating from within the country,” Amnesty’s Nicholson said. “The BBC and VOA have such an important role to play in sharing information with people in Burundi.”

In a phone interview with VOA, Willy Nyamitwe, senior adviser to Burundi’s President Pierre Nkurunziza, said the news organizations were banned for spreading falsehoods.

 

VOA, BBC, burundi
“We are alarmed that reporters in Burundi are now forbidden to communicate with VOA and believe these continuing threats to our journalists undermine press freedom in the country,” VOA Director Amanda Bennett said. VOA

“Some international media are biased. Everybody knows some reports were fake reports, fake news,” Nyamitwe said. “So if people cannot even try to speak the truth, but if some people are using some media outlets only to spread lies, what other comments do I have to do?”

Nyamitwe also said that Burundi has an open media landscape and that all countries have the right to ban news organizations that spread lies. “There are thousands of journalists in the country. There are tens of media houses, radio stations, TV stations, newspapers, media online.

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“So I think people are exaggerating thinking that there’s no media houses in the country,” he said. “I do know that even in the United States there are some media houses that have been called biased or fake news media houses.”

In its 2018 press freedom report, Reporters Without Borders ranked Burundi 159th out of 180 countries worldwide. It said security forces routinely harass journalists and pointed to the unsolved 2016 disappearance of journalist Jean Bigirimana as evidence of intimidation and violence against reporters. (VOA)

Next Story

BBC Demands White House Security Review After Cameraman Attacked at Trump Rally

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said journalists should never be assaulted for just doing their jobs.

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Donald Trump, BBC
FILE - U.S. President Donald Trump speaks during a rally in El Paso, Texas, Feb. 11, 2019. The British Broadcasting Corporation has asked the White House for a review of security arrangements after a BBC cameraman was assaulted at the rally. VOA

The British Broadcasting Corporation is asking the White House for a security review after a BBC cameraman was attacked at a Trump rally Monday night in El Paso, Texas.

Camera Ron Skeans was unhurt after a Trump supporter wearing a trademark “Make America Great Again” hat jumped onto the media platform and started shoving him.

BBC reporter Gary O’Donoghue said the man tried to smash the camera before he was restrained. He could be heard yelling profanities at TV reporters and crews as another Trump supporter pulled him away.

President Trump paused, asked if everything was “OK,” and continued his speech about building a border wall, and talking more about the “totally dishonest media.”

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O’Donoghue says the attack came after Trump “repeatedly goaded the crowd over supposed media bias.”

White House spokeswoman Sarah Sanders said Tuesday “President Trump condemns all acts of violence against any individual or group of people, including members of the press. We ask that anyone attending an event to do so in a peaceful and respectful manner.”

British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said journalists should never be assaulted for just doing their jobs.

“There is a broader issue here, which is that last year, 80 journalists were killed across the world. … We are very worried about this,” he said.

A BBC bureau chief said there was no security around the media platform, and no policemen intervened during or after the cameraman was assaulted.

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The media has been one of Trump’s chief targets for insults since he started his presidential campaign. He has berated reporters during news conferences, accused television networks of lying, and constantly refers to The New York Times — the country’s premier newspaper — as “failing” and “gutless.” (VOA)