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The Importance of Responsible Journalism in Burundi

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Journalists should seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable.

The Society of Professional Journalists in its voluntary Code of Ethics says that journalists should seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently and be accountable. Distorting and mischaracterizing statements of officials so as to produce an inflammatory article seemingly aimed at provoking violence is not in keeping with professional journalism.

The Importance of Responsible Journalism in Burundi
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In a polemic entitled Cibitoke: An image that has ended the Illusion (of the concept of) “Sindumujua” or “I am not a Slave” that was published by on February 21st, the publication mischaracterized the statements and actions by U.S. officials, including the president of the United States, Barack Obama.Neither the tone of the article, nor the significant misleading and inflammatory statements, can be characterized as meeting the internationally generally recognized standards of free, independent, and professional media services.

The United States Embassy in Burundi, in an open letter published on its website, strongly condemned “the intent apparent in the article to provoke anti-Rwandan sentiments, possibly including violence.” In this regard, the Embassy noted that the President of Burundi, Pierre Nkurunziza, had himself condemned hate speech or violent language on February 20 in Cibitoke.

The Embassy further noted, moreover, that “unlike the author or authors of the article, President Nkurunziza affirmed in Cibitoke that all Burundians, including those who have fled the country, must participate in inclusive political dialogue regarding the path to peace for Burundi. The assertion in the article that civil society triggered the insurgency suggests that believes that all elements of civil society that do not share its views should be excluded from the dialogue despite President Nkurunziza’s call for inclusive dialogue.”

In its open letter the U.S. Embassy emphasized that the U.S. Ambassador to Burundi, Her Excellency Dawn Liberi, and the U.S. Special Envoy, Mr. Thomas Perriello, went to Cibitoke on February 20 “to express the U.S. Government’s continued solidarity with all Burundians, regardless of political orientation, who seek the chance to educate and raise their children in a secure, pluralist Burundi.”

A free press is essential to building a free and stable civil society. Journalists play an invaluable role when they follow the canons of their profession and provide the public with reporting that is fair and accurate and commentary that is responsible.