Mali: Suspension of French media outlets threatens freedom of expression

ARTICLE 19 expresses its concern over the Malian authorities’ recent suspension of media outlets France 24 and Radio France International (RFI) after accusing them of publishing ‘false’ information.  

The measures come as the months-long diplomatic crisis between France and Mali intensifies, and as protests against the presence of the French Army in Mali increase following the Malian government ordering the French ambassador to leave the country.

On 16 March 2022, the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization announced that it had initiated the suspension of the two outlets, which are headquartered in France. According to the Minister’s statement, the procedure followed the publication of what he alleged to be false news regarding abuses and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law carried out by the Malian armed forces, Forces Armées Maliennes (FAMa). In the statement, the Minister specifically referred to a report by Human Rights Watch claiming that at least 107 civilians had been killed by the Malian army and armed Islamist groups in central and southwestern Mali since December 2021. 

Although national law requires such a suspension to be carried out by the High Authority for Communication and only after deliberation by the College of Members, the suspension came into effect the next day, on the afternoon of 17 March. Both RFI’s FM broadcasts and France 24 television broadcasts across Mali were interrupted. Neither RFI nor France 24 was given an opportunity to defend themselves, or to examine and to respond to the alleged evidence against them as required by both national and international law. 

In addition to the suspension, the authorities instituted a prohibition against national radio and television stations rebroadcasting or publishing programmes or press articles produced by the two media outlets. 

ARTICLE 19 underlines that the alleged falsity of information is not a legitimate ground for restrictions of freedom of expression and freedom of the media. An important point of principle remains that ‘the human right to impart information is not limited to “correct statements”,[and] that the right also protects information and ideas that may shock, offend or disturb’. The four special mandates on freedom of expression have made clear that ‘general prohibitions on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous ideas, including “false news”, are incompatible with international standards for restrictions on freedom of expression.’ Additionally, any regulation of the broadcasting sector should be done by an independent professional regulatory authority in accordance with international standards.

“This suspension seems to be politically motivated given the recent political and diplomatic tensions between the Malian authorities and France. Professional media should not be affected by strained political relations and should be able to operate independently and freely. States should also promote a diverse and pluralistic media environment. In situations of political tensions, it is important for the media to be able to operate freely to provide citizens with accurate, timely and reliable information. The authorities must create such favourable conditions for the media and guarantee people’s right to access information in law and in practice.” – Statement by Fatou Jagne Senghore, Regional Director of ARTICLE 19 West Africa.

ARTICLE 19 calls on the Malian authorities to reconsider the suspension of the media outlets in question and to ensure that any action potentially limiting media freedom fully complies with international freedom of expression standards. In particular, any restrictions on freedom of expression should be set out in law, should pursue legitimate aims and be proportional and necessary in a democratic society. 

For more information please contact: 

Maateuw Mbaye, Program Assistant, ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa

Email: T: +221785958337 or 

Aissata Diallo Dieng, Executive Assistant, ARTICLE 19 Senegal/West Africa

Email :  T:+221338690322