The hazards of journalism in West Africa

In a country whose name means “the land of upright people,” accounts of corruption will always find their way into Burkina Faso’s media. In this country with proud history of fighting kleptocracy, however, something now seems terribly wrong. To the average Burkinabé, corruption at all levels of government is a problem – one that's growing worse. Yet the majority of Burkinabé media pointedly look the other direction.

You may blame this on the fact that the nation’s largest newspaper, major radio network and local television service are all state controlled, and known for their mostly lackluster news coverage. For the country’s independent dailies, the government enjoys employing subtle forms of intimidation to ensure readers’ attention is directed elsewhere.

It all leaves Burkina Mom from BurkinaMom’s Life in Africa to argue that the reality of what’s happening in the streets is often light years apart from what’s found in the newspapers. That was especially true for recent coverage of a much-hyped World Bank report grading business conditions in more than 170 different countries:

“Corruption in Burkina Faso: Business Climate Really Improves!” was the headline of an article in one of today's newspapers in Burkina Faso. Here's a translation of how it began: “Without a bribe, you may have to wait years for your merchandise. There's nothing you can do...” says a Burkinabe small-business owner. The report “Doing Business 2008″ that outlines the business environment of various nations was published on September 26 by the World Bank and the International Finance Corporation. It ranked Burkina as 37th in Africa and the 161st in the world rankings, out of 178 countries. This is relatively better than previous years and the progress is much touted in the local newspapers, as well as TV and radio. Burkina was 165th in 2007……

Burkina Mom then compares the local media coverage with L’Evenement, a fearless independent bi-weekly that she considers to be the best in the country:

The press releases from the World Bank , Burkinabé government, and etc. are relentlessly upbeat. L'Evenement isn't buying the official line, though. I love how the bold black type claiming that the business climate is “Really Improved” is immediately followed by a quote illustrating how bad it still is. I also enjoy the subtle dig at the local tv, radio stations and many rival newspapers that never seem to research anything. They just publish the government press releases and keep their heads down.. .which is probably wise. A top journalist in Niger was just thrown into prison last September for annoying the powers that be. He is still being detained and faces life in prison. Being a journalist is hazardous stuff when done correctly, especially in West Africa.

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