The African media community lost a central voice this week with the passing of Samuel Kiendrebeogo, the veteran host of weekly media magazine Médias d'Afrique et D'Ailleurs on Voice of America's French service. Sam, as he was known, died while vacationing in his native Burkina Faso. He was 63.
Most of Sam's listeners probably only knew him by his voice, which I had gotten used to hearing over the phone when he called to request interviews. I had the privilege of meeting Sam a handful of times during my visits to the VOA studios in Washington, D.C. A warm but austere man whose calm put me at ease, he had quick wits, sharp mind and a wry sense of humor. He was an old school journalist.
Following journalism training in France, Sam began his career in 1972 as a presenter with the state broadcaster when his country was still called Haute Volta, he said in a 2005 interview with Guinean news website Aminata.com. He held various posts in state media, enduring demotion after a 1983 coup, and returning as editor-in-chief of the state newspaper following the 1987 coup that ended the revolutionary regime of Cpt. Thomas Sankara. He subsequently headed a journalism school, Centre de formation professionnelle de l'information (CFPI), before applying for a journalism fellowship at Boston University. During the fellowship, he did an internship with VOA. He returned to Burkina Faso until VOA offered him a position in 1993.
In addition to covering CPJ's advocacy in Africa, Sam helped me contact several veteran African journalists of his class who contributed to our 2010 guest blog series on the 50 years of press in independent francophone African countries.
During his career, Sam interviewed dignitaries and heads of states, and he insisted on adherence to the highest standards of journalism. "Due to the effects of authoritarian states in Africa, there are also colleagues who are afraid to address sensitive topics. We understand them, but we cannot depart from the rules of objectivity, fairness and balanced information," he declared in the 2005 interview. "When a subject is food for discussion, we let both sides of the story be heard. It's up to the listener to draw his own conclusions."
UPDATE: The headline of this blog post has been corrected to reflect that Kiendrebeogo was born in 1949, not 1941 as posted previously.