Mali: Suspension of France 24 and RFI must be revoked

18 March 2022
The two international public media organisations, France 24 and Radio France Internationale (RFI), were suspended by Mali authorities on Wednesday evening.
RFI, France 24, France Médias Monde building
RFI (Radio France Internationale), TV5Monde, France 24 headquarters buimding and studios in Issy les Moulineaux, France. Credit: JeanLucIchard /

The Malian military junta has suspended the broadcasting of sister stations France 24 and RFI, after a report was published detailing allegations of abuse by the Malian military.

The Mali government’s spokesperson, Colonel Abdoulaye Maiga, was quoted in a France 24 report saying they categorically rejected “these false allegations against the valiant FAMa” [Malian Armed Forces].

Relations between the French government and the west African nation have worsened over the last two years, when two successive coups have seen power seized by the military. In February, President Emmanuel Macron announced French troops would be leaving the country after nine years.

Why did the Malian authorities ban RFI and France 24?

A news report which contained allegations that Mali’s military were responsible for killing dozens of civilians was aired on France 24 on 15 March. The report contained interviews with the civil society organisation Human Rights Watch (HRW) and the United Nations Human Rights Commissioner, Michelle Bachelet. Human Rights Watch has reported that since December 2021, at least 107 civilians have been killed by the Malian army and Islamist groups.

A separate report from RFI collected testimonies from ten people who had experienced abuse at the hands of the military and also mercenaries.

In the wake of the stories coming out, the junta described the allegations as “false”, and consequently announced France 24 and RFI would be suspended “until further notice.”

What was the reaction?

The decision has prompted widespread criticism. France Médias Monde (FMM) – the parent company of France 24 and RFI – said it “strongly protested against the unfounded allegations which seriously questioned the professionalism of its broadcasts”. FMM also promised it would “explore all avenues of recourse to ensure that such a decision is not implemented”.

International and European reaction to the ban focussed on what it signalled for the democratic future of the country. In December, the junta said it would remain in power for another five years, citing security concerns. The statement provoked a response from the UN, which called on the junta to formulate a timetable to hold elections so that the country could transition to a civilian government.

President Macron condemned the decision in a news conference. He said it “seems to me totally at odds with the values espoused by the people of Mali since its independence.” Corinne Dufka, Human Rights Watch’s West Africa Director, described the decision as “deeply troubling. The decision hardly bodes well for the restoration of democracy.”

Read more: France’s public media – funding, governance, audience etc.

The EU’s foreign policy spokesperson, Nabila Massrali, said “By attacking the freedom of the press, the freedom to inform and to be informed, the junta is continuing and confirming that it is pushing ahead regardless.”

RSF has noted that while physical attacks on journalists have declined in recent years, press freedom still hangs in the balance.

Banning France 24 and RFI demonstrates the current government’s intolerance for journalism and its role in holding power to account. It signals to other media organisations that journalism which exposes abuses of power will be met with retribution. This in turn could lead to self-censorship. To demonstrate the junta is committed to an open media environment, the decision to ban RFI and France 24 must be reversed.