Burkina: “Muzzling the press will never stop journalistic work” (Moussa Sawadogo)

In journalistic practice in times of crisis, ethics alone are not enough for journalists to pass on certain information. They appeal to ethics by making an assessment of the situation, the context and the general interest and decide to give this information when they believe that it is likely to resolve the conflict and not to aggravate the situation. . This is the analysis made by Moussa Sawadogo, expert in communication and information, who animated, on Thursday March 30, 2023, a public conference at the Institute of Sciences and Techniques of Information and Communication (ISTIC) in Ouagadougou, on the processing of information in times of crisis. He also believes that “muzzling the press” is not the solution because it “will never stop journalistic work”.

The profession of journalism is being put to the test in Burkina Faso in this period of multidimensional crisis, with journalists who are the subject of recurring threats and certain media, in particular foreign ones, forced to close. It is in this context that the Norbert Zongo National Press Center (CNP-NZ) organised, on Thursday March 30, 2023, a public conference for students of the Institute of Information and of Communication (ISTIC), relating to the processing of information in times of crisis.

The communicator, Moussa Sawadogo

The conference was moderated by communication and information expert, Moussa Sawadogo, who also teaches in journalism schools, on the theme “Information processing in peacebuilding and conflict prevention”. For the speaker, it is a question of evoking the problem of journalism sensitive to conflicts, which is, according to him, a form of journalistic practice and not a way of reinventing the profession of journalism.

From the outset, Mr. Sawadogo defined the conflict-sensitive journalist as a professional who does not just cover wars, but who engages in the search for solutions to the conflict. To do this, argues the expert in communication and information, this professional does not submit to the interests of the protagonists, but strives to find the causes and solutions to the conflict by going beyond the discourse of the elites and approaching the masses. social media to listen to their message.

For the communicator, the journalist sensitive to the conflict must also be a mediator between the two protagonists while not taking sides. Nor should it serve as a channel for the latter to convey their messages of hatred or any other propaganda, but above all work to humanize the conflict. It is, according to Moussa Sawadogo, to show the suffering caused by the conflict.

How to process information in times of crisis?

In times of crisis, the journalist, in the processing of information, “must just remember his social mission which is the defense of the general interest, not that of a group”, underlined the speaker of the day. “There are situations where ethics cannot answer the questions. At this time, the journalist appeals to his ethics, that is to say to the assessment of the situation, the context and the general interest and he decides whether to give the information or not. He will give the information if he thinks that this information is likely to resolve the conflict, that is to say not to aggravate the situation”, developed Moussa Sawadogo in front of the ISTIC students.

ISTIC students at the public conference

Moreover, he argues that “not all truth is good to say”, especially that which jeopardizes national security. “What is the point of a truth that will undermine national unity, the general interest. If I have to say something to destroy the country, I refrain from saying it”, he declared, noting that this is a prerogative of the journalist who applies self-censorship.

“Muzzling the press will never stop journalistic work”

Journalists continue to do their work of analysis, criticism, even in times of crisis, to see if the solutions proposed by the rulers are good and lasting, noted the communicator, recalling also that sometimes the rulers don’t appreciate these criticisms. “But there is no question of enlisting the freedom of the press”, slices the journalism teacher.

Presidium of the public conference with Inoussa Ouédraogo (on the right) Arsène Evariste Kaboré (on the left) and Moussa Sawadogo

“As long as the codes of ethics and deontology are respected, there is no reason to prevent the journalist from doing his job. To do so is to apply other rules to him apart from ethics and deontology and we enter politics, we switch to the violation of the rights to information, “said the expert Sawadogo who convinced that muzzling the press “will never stop journalistic work”. “So there needs to be transparent communication by accepting criticism,” he advised.

According to his communication, Moussa Sawadogo deplored the “insufficient training” of journalists in this period of crisis. “We talked about conflict-sensitive journalism, I’m sure there are very few journalists who have been trained in it. In the newsrooms, journalists are not very well supervised on the issue of the crisis. This can cause problems. This is a deficiency that should be corrected,” suggested the speaker.

By Siaka CISSE