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The French colonizers realized early on that the press could be of great use in this business of conquest and domination. So in all its colonized states France had its media outlets disseminating messages. During the last years of the colonial period (until 1960) some political parties and unions created their own publications allowing for some levels of pluralism of voices in the country. The national radio of Mali was established in 1957 as a state institution. During the period from independence in 1960 to the military coup in 1968 there were several attempts to create new publications.
However, after the coup, many closed and others were held under the control of the military. With multiparty democratic elections in 1991 and a liberalization of the media market in 1992, the media landscape was radically transformed with new publications and the creation of private radios across the country. This was a period in which media outlets clearly identified with different political parties. This new dynamic fostered the creation of new media laws and a code of ethics.
Also, the constitution of February 1992 includes references to freedom of the press and information.
Before the events of 2012, Mali had a thriving media sector and a regulation mostly favorable to Freedom of Expression. Malian media development has been held as a regional model and received strong technical and financial support from international and regional organizations. Despite this, according to Mamadou Kaba, the managing director of Radio Television du Mali: The Malian media still has two faces: on the one hand that of a vibrant and free press which is not subjected to censorship, seizure, or arrests and, on the other hand that of a press characterized by excesses and grave violations of the law and ethics of the profession, in complete impunity.
With the current crisis and ensuing economic instability, media outlets are now more politically influenced and divided than ever. Before the conflict, self-censorship and politically influenced media existed side by side with favorable media laws. Influence on media was exerted through coercion, abuse of the national budget for state advertising, or by modifying tax conditions of specific media outlets.
iPrior to 2012, journalists exercised varying levels of self-censorship. On one hand, they were influenced by religious and social norms. During late 2011, Mali’s media began to practice self-censorship in relation to protests against a new conservative family law. The new law was hardly reported on in the media. A press conference was organised by women’s and human rights associations at the umbrella organisation Maison de la Presse in October 2011 which all media outlets attended, but only one small, unknown newspaper reported on the issue. The media feared the wrath of radical Muslims who had demonstrated in favour of the conservative family law. During 2012, the coup dealt a blow to freedom of media and expression. While chaotic conditions plagued northern Mali, violations of freedom of the press in southern Mali, particularly in the capital, were considerable in the first four months following the coup. In addition as a regulatory consequence of the coup in February 2012 a new audio-visual law was promulgated, but the coup and the general political crisis stopped its implementation. Media demographics reflect a multi-linguistic and multi-ethnic media scene.
Despite the numerous media outlets most newspapers only circulate in Bamako and in the main cities. Radio continues to be the main media with the widest outreach. Prior to the conflict, radio coverage reached 90% of the population. The broadcasting is split between private community radios, non-commercial radios, cooperatives, and state and private radios of a commercial nature. Radio plays an important role due to Mali’s adult literacy rate of 26% community radios broadcast in local languages in rural areas and are important sources of information with a high level of legitimacy.
Since the democratic process of 1991 began and up to 2011 Mali did not see any journalists prosecuted and cases of violence were rare. The security situation of journalists deteriorated rapidly during the last two years, both in the north and the south. There are now no mechanisms in place for the protection of journalists and the relationship between media and the security forces is characterized by distrust. Malian media also suffers from lack of professionalism and training. This is reflected in the quality of the treatment of information that rarely includes serious investigative journalism. There is a code of conduct in place for journalists, but it is mostly ignored and tight economic conditions and low salaries make journalists prone to corrupted practices; there are several types of media in Mali, these needs to be analyzed separately.
Radio is the most prominent media in Mali as the main newspapers and publications are only distributed in Bamako and other large cities. Since the liberalization of the airwaves in 1992 the number of private radios has multiplied exponentially. At the onset of 2012, approximately 500 licenses have been issued by the government to create associative, commercial and community radios. Before the conflict there were 369 different private radios operating in the country conforming to the regulatory framework. These radios provided coverage to approximately 80% of the population. In the city of Bamako alone there were 16 private radios and two public ones. In Sikasso, there were 52 radios, in Kayes there were 47 radios, in Koulikoro there were 35, and in Segou there were 55. In addition, there were eight public regional radios from the Malian Office of Radio and Television Broadcasting (ORTM). As a consequence of the conflict in the north, private and public radios operate almost only in the south of the country. In the north some radios have been taken over or co-opted by some of the rebel groups. There is a wide network of community radios divided in several associations. The most important is the Union of Free Radios and Television of Mali (Union des Radios et Televisions Libres du Mali, URTEL) which is an umbrella organisation of approximately 250 radios. There are two other networks: Kayira that counts 16 radios and TDM networks that covers 17 radios. These radios provide fundamental information in local languages and enjoy high levels of trust within the communities they operate in.
iDespite the wide radio coverage in the country, most radios do not comply with basic technical and ethical standards. They are characterised by nonprofessional staff, lack of equipment and safety measures and lack of financial resources. Foreign radio content – such as that of Radio France Internationale (RFI), BBC Africa, Deutsche Welle and Voice of America (VOA) – are relayed by Malian radio without being covered by any type of regulation. In addition, the ORTM radios relay content from Radio Beijing, Radio France Internationale, La Radio AFRICA N°1, and BBC Africa.
There were over 300 newspaper licenses issued for private newspapers, but at the closing of this report only 30 dailies and weeklies appear regularly. All newspaper distribution is geographically limited to newsstands in the city of Bamako. Even before the crisis, 90% of the newspapers were circulated only in Bamako. Circulation numbers are low with 300 to 1,500 copies printed a day. There are also regional publications in the main local languages such as Bambara, Fula and Soninke. The only national newspaper in French, L’Essor, is state-owned. The impact of print media is limited due to the low literacy rate.
Mali still does not have regulation covering private TV channels. TV reception is limited in many areas of the country due to a lack of electricity and TV sets. Currently, there are two public channels located in Bamako city (TM2 and Africable TV) and one national TV channel. ORTM rebroadcasts satellite-received content from 150 international channels.
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