Journalists barred from Mali war zone, media rights campaigners incensed

Journalists barred from Mali war zone, media rights campaigners incensed

France and Mali military have been urged to let journalists into Mali war zones to do their job and find for themselves the truth about this conflict. Media rights organisations, including Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF), Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Middle East-based Doha Centre for Media Freedom (DCMF) have voiced concerns about the secrecy surrounding the Mali war, and accused authorities of wanting to control the flow of information.

The French government has defended itself, saying it was too dangerous and too risky for the media to come close to the war zone, adding that the restrictions were for their own safety.

But RSF is incensed. “In war time, it is up to journalists and their news organisations, not the military, to determine the risk they are prepared to take in order to gather information,” the Paris-based organisation said in its newsletter sent out on Friday.

RSF said several journalists who had been given permission to travel with French armoured vehicles as far as Sévaré were obliged to leave the convoy in Ségou, some distance short of their destination, yesterday morning.

Since the war broke out in this impoverished West African nation, the French ministry of defence has been giving short and sketchy updates to the media, without providing more details on the operation.

“It is imperative that journalists should be free to verify the situation on the ground for themselves without having to make do with the information provided by the authorities of the countries involved in the conflict, especially when the first claims of war crimes by soldiers are being made. The current situation constitutes a grave obstruction to the ability of journalists to do their job,” RSF said.

A blog written by CPJ senior advisor Jean-Paul Marthoz quoted French journalist Jean-Paul Mari as saying: “All the reporters who travel to the north come back frustrated and furious to Bamako. This is a war without images and without facts,” Mari, a special envoy for the newsweekly Le Nouvel Observateur, added.

“The roads to the north are blocked by a succession of checkpoints manned by the Malian army. They are very nervous,” France 2 television reporter Gérard Grizbec is also quoted by the CPJ blog as saying.

In Doha, Qatar, DCMF said while the details of the ongoing conflict inside Mali might be difficult to ascertain, what is not in any doubt is the fact that the authorities are attempting to control the flow of information to the outside world.

“However, with the combination of modern technology, social media and the fact that courageous journalists continue to battle to do their jobs in Mali, the battle to restrict the truth is set to be a major challenge in itself,” DCMF’s Peter Townson wrote.

*Photo by Press TV. French troops in armoured vehicule patrolling the streets of Gao.

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