On 16 March 2022, the Minister of Territorial Administration and Decentralization announced that it had initiated the suspension of the two outlets, which are headquartered in France. According to the Minister’s statement, the procedure followed the publication of what he alleged to be false news regarding abuses and violations of human rights and international humanitarian law carried out by the Malian armed forces, Forces Atmées Malinennes (FAMa). In the statement, the Minister specifically referred to a report by Human Rights Watch claiming that at least 107 civilians had been killed by the Malian army and armed Islamist groups in central and southwestern Mali since December 2021.
Although national law requires such a suspension to be carried out by the High Authority for Communication and only after deliberation by the College of Members, the suspension came into effect the next day, on the afternoon of 17 March. Both RFI’s FM broadcasts and France 24 television broadcasts across Mali were interrupted. Neither RFI nor France 24 was given an opportunity to defend themselves, or to examine and to respond to the alleged evidence against them as required by both national and international law.
In addition to the suspension, the authorities instituted a prohibition against national radio and television stations rebroadcasting or publishing programmes or press articles produced by the two media outlets.
ARTICLE 19 underlines that the alleged falsity of information is not a legitimate ground for restrictions of freedom of expression and freedom of the media. An important point of principle remains that ‘the human right to impart information is not limited to “correct statements”,[and] that the right also protects information and ideas that may shock, offend or disturb’. The four special mandates on freedom of expression have made clear that ‘general prohibitions on the dissemination of information based on vague and ambiguous ideas, including “false news”, are incompatible with international standards for restrictions on freedom of expression.’ Additionally, any regulation of the broadcasting sector should be done by an independent professional regulatory authority in accordance with international standards.