Burkina Faso said it would indefinitely suspend France 24 news channel’s broadcast licence in the country in response to an interview the French state-owned channel aired with the leader of an al-Qaeda-linked terrorist group.
France 24 broadcast an interview three weeks ago with Abu Ubaydah Yusuf al-Anabi, an Algerian national who heads al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), which has terrorised parts of the Sahel, a semi-arid strip of Africa that includes Burkina Faso, for almost a decade.
Rimtalba Jean Emmanuel Ouedraogo, spokesperson for Burkina’s transitional military junta, said that by interviewing the Islamist leader, France 24 acted as “a communication agency for these terrorists and, worse, it is offering a space for legitimising terrorist actions and hate speech.
“The government has therefore decided in full responsibility, and in the name of the higher interests of the nation, to suspend sine die the broadcasting of France 24 programmes throughout the national territory,” Ouedraogo added.
The spokesperson said the military regime had respect for freedom of the press but warned France 24 and other media outlets of their “responsibilities with regard to the editorial choices they make in the treatment of information on terrorism”.
France Médias Monde, the state-owned holding company that controls France 24, said it “deplored the decision and contested the baseless accusations that called into question the professionalism of the channel.” It added that France 24 did not broadcast the interview with al-Anabi directly, instead choosing the format of an editorial that allowed journalists to “inject the necessary distance and context”.
Al-Anabi became leader of the terror organisation in 2020 after his predecessor, Abdelmalek Droukdel, was killed by French military and allied forces in a raid in Mali. The US government is offering a reward of up to $7mn for information on him.
The suspension of France 24 is the latest sign of worsening ties between Burkina and its former colonial ruler. The government announced in January it had told French special forces to leave, saying its own forces would defend the country against the Isis and al-Qaeda affiliates it has been battling.
The withdrawal order terminated a 2018 agreement that allowed about 400 French soldiers to be stationed at a base outside the capital, Ouagadougou. The French troops departed in February, according to the Burkinabe government.
In the France 24 interview, al-Anabi said that he considered the withdrawal of French troops from both Mali and Burkina Faso a success for his group. He also described the Russian private military company Wagner, which is present in Mali, as a colonial force.
The suspension is a further setback for France 24’s operations in west Africa, where it has a substantial audience in French-speaking former colonies. The military government in Mali banned the news channel last year alongside its sister network Radio France Internationale (RFI) after they alleged abuses by the country’s armed forces.
RFI’s broadcast license in Burkina Faso was suspended in December over what the Ouagadougou government said was a false report into an attempted coup. RFI denied reporting about a coup attempt.
France 24 said the channel would remain available to people in Burkina Faso via satellite and by social networks such as YouTube.
Additional reporting by Leila Abboud in Paris
Source: Financial Times