Burundi revokes BBC's permit, extends ban on VOA

Friday March 29 2019

A radio studio.

A radio studio. Burundi communication regulator has withdrawn the BBC's operating licence and extended ban on VOA. FOTOSEARCH 

MOSES HAVYARIMANA
By MOSES HAVYARIMANA
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Burundi has declined to lift a ban on the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of America (VOA) services.

The two international media houses were suspended last May for a period of six months, just two weeks before the constitutional amendment referendum to extend presidential terms and powers.

The media regulator, the National Communication Council (CNC), accused BBC of broadcasting content that “put national cohesion and reconciliation at stake,” while VOA was banned for partnering with some local media houses that had been shut down in 2015.

“The CNC has decided to withdraw the operating licence for BBC... and VOA programmes will still be suspended until further notice,” said Nestor Bankumukunzi, the chairman of CNC on Friday.

“All Burundian and foreign journalists who are in the country are forbidden from reporting or giving information directly or indirectly to the BBC and VOA,” Mr Bankumukunzi added.

When the suspension was first announced in May, journalists from the two stations had been allowed to continue working.

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Last December, BBC Africa Eye aired an investigative 23-minute documentary, dubbed Inside the Secret Killing House, that documented the killing and torture of opposition members by security forces in secret detention facilities.

The documentary, incensed the government, leading to the decision to withdraw BBC's licence.

The US-government funded VOA's ban was extended for continuing to work with Patrick Nduwimana, a Swahili journalist who has an arrest warrant issued against him, Mr Bankumukunzi said.

Mr Nduwimana is accused by the government of participating in the 2015 failed coup.

In 2014, the BBC also had its broadcasts suspended indefinitely in Rwanda for airing a documentary, The Untold Story, that questioned the official accounts of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi.

In press freedom rankings calculated by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) Burundi is already ranked 159 out of 180 in the world.

"The unwarranted decision of the Burundi government to ban the BBC and suspend indefinitely Voice of America strikes a serious blow against media freedom, and we strongly condemn it," the BBC said in a statement.

"We believe it is vital for people around the world to have access to impartial, accurate and independent journalism, including the 1.3 million people in Burundi who currently rely on BBC news."

BBC and VOA broadcasts continue on short wave frequencies, which can be listened to inside the country by anyone with the necessary radio.

-Additional reporting by AFP.

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