Tough new government media controls have taken effect in the central African nation of Burundi, a step backward there for freedom of expression and the unrestricted exchange of information and ideas that help underpin democracy.
Saying that steps were needed to professionalize the media and ensure that journalists do not incite hatred in a nation where some 300,000 people died in sectarian violence between 1994 and 2005, the Burundian legislature approved, and President Pierre Nkurunziza has signed, a law that forbids reporting on matters that could undermine national security, public order or the economy. Further, starting in 2019, journalists will be required to have a university degree regardless of their work experience. Those found in violation will face heavy fines well above the annual pay of most journalists. Currently, journalists with ten or more years of experience are not required to have a degree.
The new law comes amid a government crackdown on the press. Last month the national communications council imposed a one-month ban on a popular newspaper’s online readers’ forum, ruling that comments posted there frequently insulted the head of state and incited ethnic hatred.
Freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information, is a universal human right.
The United States is deeply concerned by the media bill and the restrictions it places on standard journalistic practices. Freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive and impart information, is a universal human right. We urged that the law be revised and continue to call on the government of Burundi to respect freedom of expression pursuant to its obligations under international law, particularly the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.