Guinea's toxic media landscape threatens press freedom

Headquarters of the Guinean Broadcasting Corporation; screenshot from Medi1TVAfrique's YouTube channel.

In the Republic of Guinea, the media continues to bear the heavy cost of freedom restrictions since the last coup d'état on September 5, 2021.

On this date, Colonel Mamady Doumbouya ousted Alpha Condé, the former president of Guinea from 2010 to 2021, who had just started his third term, thereby breaching the constitution's two-term consecutive limit.

Guinean authorities initially reassured Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that they would protect and promote press freedom following an RSF mission in October 2021. However, after these events, access to official information became a significant challenge, particularly for private media. During a press conference at the end of the mission, Arnaud Froger, head of RSF's Africa Bureau, stated:

La Guinée est sans doute à un tournant de son histoire et la refondation du pays que le colonel Mamadi Doumbouya, désormais président de la transition, a appelé de ses vœux ne pourra voir le jour en l’absence de garanties sérieuses et de réformes concrètes pour que les journalistes puissent librement et de manière responsable exercer leur mission d’information. Nous espérons que les autorités de transition ouvriront une nouvelle ère pour le journalisme en Guinée, en s’appuyant notamment sur les recommandations transmises au cours de cette mission.

Guinea stands at a crucial crossroads in its history, and the country's rebuilding, as called for by Colonel Mamadi Doumbouya, now the transitional president, will not come to fruition without solid guarantees and concrete reforms that allow journalists to freely and responsibly carry out their duty of providing information. We hope the transitional authorities will usher in a new era for journalism in Guinea, particularly by implementing the recommendations presented during this mission.

Recommendations consistent with RSF's suggestions were made to the authorities to ensure press freedom during the transition period. However, it is evident that, three years later, the press is a helpless witness to its own silencing.

In its 2023 report on global freedom, Freedom House highlighted the increased harassment of journalists by the junta authorities.

(…) plusieurs journalistes critiques auraient été victimes d'arrestations arbitraires, d'actes d'intimidation, d'interrogatoires et de censures de la part des forces de sécurité. Les nouveaux dirigeants de Conakry ont fréquemment demandé à l'autorité nationale chargée de la communication (HAC) de suspendre les points de vente qui offraient une couverture critique. En outre, des unités militaires ont visité les bureaux des journaux et des stations de radio qui ont produit des rapports critiques et intimidé des journalistes. La junte a en outre réussi à fausser la couverture médiatique en faveur des autorités de transition en offrant un soutien financier sélectif. Par ailleurs, des informations ont été reçues en 2022 selon lesquelles des journalistes couvrant des manifestations contre la junte auraient été attaqués par des manifestants armés de pierres et de couteaux.

(…) several critical journalists have reportedly been subjected to arbitrary arrests, acts of intimidation, interrogations, and censorship by the security forces. The new rulers in Conakry have often requested that the national communication authority (HAC) suspend media outlets that offered critical coverage. Moreover, military units have visited the offices of newspapers and radio stations that produced critical reports, intimidating journalists. The junta has also managed to skew media coverage in favour of the transitional authorities by offering selective financial support. Furthermore, reports in 2022 revealed that journalists covering protests against the junta were attacked by demonstrators armed with stones and knives.

Despite rising from 85th place in 2023 to 78th in 2024 in the RSF ranking, the everyday life of Guinean journalists continues to be fraught with challenges, including suspensions, media shutdowns, and frequent censorship, all of which generate significant concern. In an interview with Radio France Internationale (RFI) in April 2024, Sékou Jamal Pendessa, Secretary General of the Union of Media Professionals of Guinea (SPPG), stated:

(…) au niveau des reporters, il y a des Guinéens qui sont habitués à certaines voix qui sont éteintes aujourd'hui, parce que ces reporters sont obligés de rester à la maison… Fim FM a renvoyé 100 % de son personnel, qui est au chômage ; le groupe Hadafo, 70 % ;  Évasion FM, au milieu de la crise, était à 50 % et aujourd'hui, je ne sais pas à combien ils sont. Et moi, j'ai entamé une tournée à l'intérieur du pays. Par exemple, je suis allé à la rédaction de Djoma FM, dans la ville de Boké : je n'ai pu rencontrer dans les locaux que la directrice et le vigile, parce que tout le monde est à la maison.

(…) among reporters, there are Guineans who are accustomed to certain voices that are now silenced because these reporters are forced to stay at home… Fim FM has laid off 100 percent of its staff, who are now unemployed; the Hadafo group, 70 percent; Évasion FM, in the midst of the crisis, was at 50 percent, and today, I don't know where they stand. And I have started a tour across the country. For instance, I visited the newsroom of Djoma FM in the city of Boké: I could only meet the director and the security guard in the premises because everyone else was at home.

On May 23, 2024, several private media outlets faced the whims of the Guinean authorities: private television channels and radio stations were shut down. According to an article in the French daily, Le Monde, a total of six radio and television stations were sanctioned and ceased broadcasting, putting hundreds of professionals out of work. Thierno Madjou Bah, a TV host at Espace TV, denounced:

Rien ne justifie cette décision à moins que l’on veuille faire taire toutes les voix dissonantes du pays.

Nothing justifies this decision unless the goal is to silence all dissenting voices in the country.

Kabinet Fofana, a political analyst and columnist for FIM FM agrees:

On a l’impression que c’est un blasphème de donner son avis aujourd’hui. Alpha Condé ne l’a pas fait ; sous Lansana Conté c’était difficile, mais, en 2006, il a libéralisé les ondes. Ce qui se passe est juste inédit.

It feels like expressing an opinion is considered blasphemy today. Alpha Condé didn't do this; under Lansana Conté, it was difficult, but in 2006, he liberalized the airwaves. What is happening now is simply unprecedented.

On May 29, 2024, through a statement, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) expressed its outrage at this repression. In this regard, its Secretary General, Drissa Traore, declared:

C’est une première en Guinée depuis la libéralisation du secteur des médias en 2005. Cette mesure liberticide viole le droit à l’information, c’est une entrave grave à la liberté de la presse et à la liberté d’expression. Nous sommes très préoccupés.

This is a first in Guinea since the liberalization of the media sector in 2005. This repressive measure violates the right to information; it is a serious infringement on press freedom and freedom of expression. We are deeply concerned.

Online, protests are gaining momentum. Facely Konaté, a Guinean journalist with over 45,000 followers on the X platform (formerly Twitter), states:

What are the solutions to the persecution of the media in #Guinea? I participated in a Space on journalism and freedom of expression in Guinea last Saturday. It was an opportunity for me to share my proposed solutions to the current situation.

Press freedom is a cornerstone of democracy, and it must be defended by every possible means. Additionally, it is important for media associations and professionals to act together in unity and solidarity…”

— Facely Konaté (@FacelyKonate1) May 27, 2024

The current situation does not bode well for the future of Guinean media in a country with over 14.5 million inhabitants, where the majority of media operate in French. To date, there has been no announcement regarding the end of the transition period that could see the return of a civilian government.

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