Bamako’s governor, Colonel Déberekoua Soara, indefinitely suspended Renouveau FM, a privately owned radio station in Bamako, Mali’s capital, on August 1, 2018. The station was accused by Soara of alleged incitement to hatred and revolt on a popular current affairs show, the broadcaster’s director, Sidi Mohamed Dicko, told CPJ. The station was back on the air 11 days later after Mali’s media regulator, the Haute Autorité de la Communication (HAC), nullified the governor’s suspension, although the regulator ordered the program canceled, Dicko said.
Soara cited the need to “preserve public order and tranquility” and suspended the radio station indefinitely because of remarks made on July 31, 2018, on the popular current affairs show “Carte sur Table,” hosted by Youssouf Mohamed Bathily, also known as Ras Bath, according to a local news report. The suspension order, seen by CPJ, did not indicate which of Ras Bath’s remarks were deemed to be offensive.
“Carte sur Table” was known for its criticism of the government, according to Kassim Traoré, the president of the Malian chapter of the Union of Francophone Press Clubs. Its July 31 show related to alleged fraud and the stuffing of ballot boxes in the first round of Mali’s presidential election on July 29, 2018, according to another local news report. In addition to hosting a radio program, Ras Bath is an activist leader of the opposition movement Collectif pour la défense de la République (CDR), which supported presidential candidate Soumaila Cissé, said Togola Hawa, chief editor of the independent online web TV, Kunafoni.com. Cissé lost Mali’s August 12 presidential runoff election to incumbent Ibrahim Boubacar Keïta.
Privately owned online news outlet Bamada.net reported on August 13, 2018, that Minister of Information and Digital Economy Harouna Modibo Touré told reporters it was up to the regulator to punish a media outlet if it was necessary to do so and not the governor.
Renouveau FM’s case was transferred to the regulator, who overruled the governor’s decision on August 11, 2018. “Renouveau FM was reopened because the governor has neither the right nor the legitimacy required to decide on the suspension of a media outlet,” Dicko told CPJ.
Hameye Cissé, a member of the nine-member regulator, told CPJ that the regulator nullified the governor’s decision because he did not have the authority to make such a decision in terms of Decree No. 2012-19 of March 12, 2012, relating to private communication services. “Only the regulator or the Minister of Territorial Administration with advice from the regulator may proceed to a closure or suspension of a media outlet, but in the latter case it must be motivated by ‘interference with the interests of national defense’ or ‘national unity’ and not ‘for the maintenance of public order’ as stated in the governor’s decision,” Cissé said. However, “Carte sur Table” was found to have violated the code of good conduct for media during elections because of alleged incitement and the broadcaster was ordered to suspend it, he said.
Because the regulator did not sanction Ras Bath, Renouveau FM’s management decided to start a new current affairs program, “Les Grands dossiers,” with Bath as its host, said Dicko. The weekly show began on August 22, 2018.
CPJ’s repeated calls to Bamako’s governor, Colonel Déberekoua Soara, went unanswered. CPJ contacted Minister of Information Touré by email, but he declined to comment and referred CPJ to Soara.