Mali in West Africa has become a hotspot of international tension. Freelance journalist and DW Akademie staffer, Gunnar Rechenburg, reports on the situation of the media there.
Until just a few months ago experts projected Mali's progression into a model state. They saw a recovering economy, more or less stable politics and probably the freest media throughout Africa. Now, though, the dream of Mali paving the way for other West African countries is over. It is embroiled in a conflict with supraregional impact.
At the end of March a group of young officers toppled the government in Bamako because of what they saw as its weak response to the rebellion of the Tuaregs in the north. The desert fighters then exploited the chaos in the south to occupy the north together with Ansar Dine and AQMI, both radical Islamic groups with close ties to Al Qaida. Since then the Tuaregs have become powerless, the Tuareg state having morphed into an Al Quaida religious state.
Researching in the country, you become acutely aware that since the upheaval, the wind has shifted, including for the media. The conflict now affects journalists directly. Several partners of DW Akademie report that in Bamako reporters have been frequently attacked and intimidated. And at army bases such as Mopti in the east, the military immediately mandated new regulations for the media: keep broadcasting, but nothing political, least of all about the army.
It's no better in the north. There the fighters of Ansar Dine and AQMI control what goes to air. And not just that. Journalists report from the occupied towns Timbuktu, Gao and Kidal that the Islamists use the media to propagandize.
A number of journalists in Mali have had enough. At the end of July they called for a media strike. They were responding to yet another attack on a newsroom, this time that of a newspaper. On the day many reporters and editors protested outside the seat of the transitional government in Bamako.
They're no longer allowed to print or broadcast, but as yet they may still demonstrate. The fact that media people are standing up for their freedom like this is currently perhaps the only encouraging sign for Mali's future.
On August 3, DW Akademie and the Berlin studio of the ARD German public broadcasting system will hold an expert round in the German capital, focusing on the situation of the media in Mali. The author of this article will take part. For more information go to Facebook.com/DWAkademie.