» The Safety of Journalists in Mali: A Daily Challenge For a Country in Reconstruction
26.07.2016 - UNESCO Office in Dakar

The Safety of Journalists in Mali: A Daily Challenge For a Country in Reconstruction

Malian security forces learn about the importance of independent press and the safety of journalists in a training in Bamako ©UNESCO/Sébastien Rieussec

In 2010, two years before the coup d’état and occupation by extremist groups of Northern Mali, the situation of Malian journalists was evaluated as “relatively good”. Due to the security crisis in the past four years in the country, the situation has considerably deteriorated and violations of press freedom have multiplied.

One year after the signature of the peace and reconciliation agreement in Mali, violations are less severe, but the North of the country remains an extremely dangerous area for journalists, where it remains very difficult to exercise their profession. It is in this framework that UNESCO, in partnership with the Ministry of Security and of Civil Protection of Mali and EUCAP Sahel organized two training workshops at the Peacekeeping Training School in Bamako (from June 13 to June 18, 2016) with the aim to to strengthen the competencies of Malian Security forces to ensure the rights of citizens and freedom of expression and information and improve the safety of journalists.

“Today, working with journalists is more than necessary,” says Commander Mohamed Issa Ouédraogo, chief of Public Relations at DIRPA – the Department of Information and Public Relations of the Senegalese Army- who attended the workshop. He served in Northern Mali before joining the Army’s Communications Service. He explains that journalists frequently come to solicit them for information but “it is not always easy because the journalists are always working on tight deadlines and, on our side, we have constraints.”

As well explained by one of the trainers, Commander Ian Lafrenière, Canadian expert to UNESCO and Member of the Montreal police force, “there is a proximity between the mission of journalists and the one of defense and security forces, but their paths differ. The difference between us is how we use what information we discover.” It is for this reason that journalists were invited on the last day of each of the training sessions, to exchange with the members of defense and security forces to try to better understand and take into account their respective work constraints.

Ramata Diaouré is a key figure in the Malian Press. Journalist and trainer, she is also a member of the Malian Press House’s committee of experts. She accepted UNESCO’s invitation and joined the trainees on the last day of the workshop to exchange with the Malian security forces. “During the crisis, we were not always able to work as we wanted” she said, while agreeing that there was not, “objectively, big barriers.”

She underlines with regret the lack of overall knowledge of the legal framework and governing texts as it concerns journalism and journalists in the country, which can lead to mistrust from both sides. This workshop, which received a technical support from the Kingdom of Norway, resulted in sometimes heated but also fruitful exchanges between the journalists and the security forces. After the exchanges, Ramata Diaouré provided recommendations to contribute to the improvement of an environment of trust. “If security forces and journalists could meet more often, people would get to know one another better and this would remove suspicion,” she explained. For this experienced journalist, “it is important that each person grants the other the freedom to exercise his/her profession.” Concretely, she suggested reintroducing “open door days” in police stations to ensure understanding of their daily work.

At the closing of the workshop, Sasha Rubel Diamanka, Regional Advisor for Communication and Information in the UNESCO Regional Office in Dakar reminded participants that this workshop was undertaken within the framework of the UN Plan of Action of the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity and as follow up to the Carthage Declaration adopted in 2012. The Carthage Declaration specifically calls for UNESCO Member States to train security forces to positively interact with media professionals, in particular during peaceful demonstrations and civic protests.

According to Commander Fatoumata B. Coulibaly, of the Civil Protection Forces of Mali, it is essential to “establish win-win relations between journalists and security forces, most of all in the security context in Mali.” Since 2015, terrorist attacks have multiplied in the country, including in the Malian capital, the target of three attacks (La Terrasse, Hotel Radisson, and EUTM). Covering these kinds of events is very delicate for a journalist. “Access to sources of information is generally difficult” explained Mariam Kamba Keita, journalist at Tamani Studios. Facing this difficulty of access to information from security forces, journalists are turning to less reliable sources.

Sergeant Kali Diakité, Communications Officer at the Police Directorate, explained that real efforts have been made in the field of communications during the past years. A communication unit has been created to give more visibility to the actions and mission of the police, who have also relaunched the magazine “Guardian of Peace.” During the recent terrorist attacks that hit the Malian capital, Sergeant specified that a security perimeter was set up to limit access to the theater of operations and ensure the safety of journalists. A policeman in charge of communication provided information in real time to journalists who, according to him, appreciated the initiative. And, finally, the Sergeant underlined, “journalists are not our enemies, which is why it is important to multiply these kinds of meetings.”

Adama Diarra is a journalist for the Malian newspaper “L’Essor.” He accompanied the first convoy of the Malian army that went to Gao during the liberation of Northern Mali in 2013. His participation in this complicated and dangerous mission was paramount for this specialist on security and defense issues, who wanted to witness with his own eyes this historic event for his country. It wasn’t an easy task to obtain authorization, only received after long negotiations, he underlines.

In conclusion, Lazare Eloundou, UNESCO Representative in Mali, expressed the hope that the dialogue initiated during the workshop would continue well beyond the training, in order to continue to advance the environment of trust between journalists and security and defense forces.

This report was produced with the support of UNESCO

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