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Freedom of the Press 2008 - Burundi

Publisher Freedom House
Publication Date 29 April 2008
Cite as Freedom House, Freedom of the Press 2008 - Burundi, 29 April 2008, available at: [accessed 3 August 2015]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Status: Not Free
Legal Environment: 21 (of 30)
Political Environment: 29 (of 40)
Economic Environment: 24 (of 30)
Total Score: 74 (of 100)
(Lower scores = freer)

While the constitution provides for freedom of expression, this is rarely respected in practice; the government dominates the media and often persecutes those in the private sector who dare to criticize it. Much of the current media legislation is vague about which offenses a journalist may be charged for, a fact that is often taken advantage of my government officials. For example, the 1997 Press Law forbids the dissemination of "information inciting civil disobedience or serving as propaganda for enemies of the Burundian nation during a time of war." The November 2003 Media Law also provides for harsh fines and prison terms of up to five years for the dissemination of information that insults the president or is defamatory toward other individuals. In 2006, a new law was proposed that would more accurately define the responsibilities and limitations of journalists in Burundi, but no progress on this legislation was made in 2007.

In 2006, the government abused its consolidated power to implement a crackdown on media outlets that criticize its policies. In fact, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, Burundi was Africa's third leading jailer of journalists in 2006. The situation looked particularly bleak when a number of media outlets questioned the government's allegations that a coup had been attempted against its regime and warranted the arrest and torture of several prominent opposition leaders. The dissenting media outlets – including Radio Publique Africaine (RPA), a frequent government target, and Radio Isanganiro, a station backed by the American NGO Search for Common Ground – were all charged with "violating state secrecy" and a number of their employees were sentenced to prison. However, the situation seems to have improved in 2007. For example, in January a court remarkably acquitted the three journalists who had been imprisoned and rejected the government's assertion that their behavior compromised public security. Also, unlike the previous year there were no reports of journalists having been harassed or arrested for being critical of the administration. Nonetheless, the events of 2006 have created a lot of fear within the private media outlets causing many journalists to self-censor.

The government dominates Burundi's media industry; it owns Le Renouveau, the country's only daily newspaper, as well as the only television station and the sole nationally broadcasted radio station. However, there are still six private newspapers that are able to publish on a weekly basis but are generally restricted to the Bujumbura area due to financial and infrastructure constraints. The ownership of the private radio stations tends to be highly concentrated, but some, like RPA, are still able to provide diverse and balanced coverage. The government doesn't actively limit the internet, but poverty does prevent the majority of Burundi's citizens from accessing this still very elite media. Less than 1 percent of the population was able to access it in 2007.

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