Banned independent radio station stops broadcasts for two days

New York, July 19, 2005—Independent station Radio Publique Africaine (RPA) went off air yesterday, after a compromise was reached with the National Communications Council, according to local sources. RPA agreed to a 2-day suspension, on the understanding that Thursday, the council—known by its French acronym CNC—will lift its original ban, which would have required the station to close down indefinitely.

“We will resume broadcasts on Thursday morning, even if the CNC drags its feet,” RPA deputy director Jean-Marie Hicuburundi told CPJ from Bujumbura, the capital. He said the shortened ban was still unfair, but that RPA had thought it necessary to respect a compromise negotiated by media professionals. The agreement was mediated by an association of Burundian journalists, an association of private radio broadcasters, and the Burundian Press Observatory, a self-regulatory organization for the profession.

In a letter to RPA, the CNC ordered the station off air last Friday, alleging that its recent election coverage was biased and that it had insulted the council. RPA director Alexis Sinduhije, a 2004 recipient of the Committee to Protect Journalists’ International Press Freedom Award, said that same day that RPA would defy the ban.

Sinduhije told CPJ that his station gave all of the parties 20 minutes of airtime per week during the recent municipal and parliamentary election campaigns. During the municipal elections, he said, RPA also provided live campaign coverage of the five parties it considered to be the most important. For the parliamentary vote, it gave live coverage to the public campaign rallies of only two parties—the CNDD-FDD and MRC—since all the other parties decided not to rally but to campaign door to door.

“While we hail the mediation initiative by media professionals in Burundi, we are outraged that a government ban has forced RPA off air,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said. “We call on the authorities to lift the ban immediately and unconditionally.”

In February, the council ordered RPA closed for two days, accusing it of “multiple violations” of the country’s press laws, including “offending public morals” by reporting on the rape of an 8-year-old girl and threatening public security by “deforming” the words of a politician. In September 2003, the station was ordered suspended indefinitely after it broadcast an interview with a rebel spokesman. RPA observed both bans and was later allowed to reopen.