Guinea’s censorship order puts RFI in difficult spot

On Monday, Guinea’s state-controlled media regulatory agency imposed a “temporary” ban on media coverage of the July 19 attack on the private residence of President Alpha Condé, silencing private radio and television talk programs in which critical questions were being raised about the episode. In such circumstances, Guinean listeners turn to foreign media outlets such as France’s state-funded international broadcaster, Radio France Internationale (RFI), the most popular station in Francophone Africa. With programs such as “Appels Sur L’actualité,” a daily news call-in show, RFI is considered by millions of African listeners to be an essential source of news and information. 

Wednesday’s”Appels Sur L’actualité” began with an ominous statement read by host Juan Gomez. “We had planned this morning to debate the attack last week against the residence of the Guinean president, but yesterday the National Communications Council of Guinea decided to temporarily suspend any program or article about the attempted assassination against the head of state as well as all call-in programs.” Gomez told listeners they would have to debate another topic.

Squeezed between the expectations of listeners and the conditions set by governments leasing the local frequencies it needs, RFI found itself in a difficult position. “We are not submitting to a censorship measure; we regret it and we hope that it will be temporary.” RFI Deputy Director Geneviève Goetzinger told CPJ today.

RFI has suffered for its critical reporting on current events in Africa. The station has seen its reporters expelled from Chad, Rwanda, and Senegal, its local correspondent jailed in Niger, and another correspondent killed in the Ivory Coast. RFI has had its broadcasts temporarily banned in a number of countries, most recently in the Democratic Republic of Congo where the government of President Joseph Kabila sought the removal of RFI senior reporter Ghislaine Dupont, the station’s DRC specialist who was expelled from the country in 2006. Nevertheless, RFI management remains adamant the station will continue to report without interference. “Our editorial line is set in Paris, in complete independence from all the governments in the world,” Goetzinger said.