Three weeks after France’s military intervention in Mali, the war remains largely “without images and without facts,” as described by Jean-Paul Mari, special envoy for the newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur. Although journalists have been allowed to follow French and Malian forces into the towns that have been recovered from armed Islamist groups, the real battlefields and front lines remain off limits.
There have been no images of French special forces in action except a few seconds of army video showing the launch of paratroopers in an undisclosed location. No precise information on the number of military or civilian casualties has been disclosed. According to French military sources, one French soldier, dozens of Malian soldiers, and hundreds of terrorists have been killed. However, no independent confirmation of these figures has been possible due to lack of access.
Journalists have described being blocked by the Malian military and kept in an information void. “Lots of new military roadblocks today Gao-Mopti axis,” tweeted BBC correspondent Mark Doyle on Thursday. “Journalists being stopped, harassed. No way to run aspiring democracy. Bad PR.”
In an interview broadcast by the public TV channel France 2 on January 31, French Defense Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian brushed aside the information vacuum described by journalists. “They are angry? Let them remain angry,” he bluntly said while justifying the information blackout on safety grounds.