Mali radio station in survival mode

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Journalism in northern Mali has become a high-risk job. Since radical Islamists took over the region, keeping the public informed has become extremely difficult and, at times, dangerous. But so far, Radio Hania in the city of Gao has stayed on air.

By Moctar Barry, Gao

Faced with failing equipment and political intimidation, Radio Hania is in survival mode. Station director Abdoul Kader Touré and his three colleagues are struggling to do their job. 

“Running a radio station here is a real nightmare,” says Touré. The journalist, who in the 1990s celebrated the liberalisation of Mali’s media, must now cope with a law-less country. Businesses are failing, and NGOs, network operators, insurance companies, government officials –all have left northern Mali.

Limited air time
Radio Hania used to broadcast round the clock. Now it can only offer two to three hours of programming a day. And that’s subject to the availability of electricity, which is supplied only between 6 PM and midnight.

“Entertainment shows and music used to make up 80 percent of our content. But with the prohibition of music broadcasts, that’s no longer a possibility,” says Touré, referring to the Sharia law implemented by the Islamists who have taken over. Now it’s straight to essentials: the news. The line-up includes local news, followed by news from the capital city Bamako and finally syndicated programming from Radio France International (RFI). 

Worse pressure
Touré says his commercial revenues have dried up. “In the past, we used to air adverts for various companies based in Bamako. Network operators in the area, businesses, international NGOs and social services used to air their ads through our station,” he explains.

Yet, the station director faces a pressure that’s even worse than broadcasting cutbacks or loss of revenue. “I am often taken to task by the Islamists,” he says, recalling what happened to a fellow journalist a few months ago. According to Touré, the man was severely beaten after he urged people to protest against an amputation sentence passed by the Islamists. He was taken to a Bamako hospital in critical condition.

Despite the tense times, the journalists’ effort is acknowledged and appreciated by the local community. At every food parcel distribution, they are served. But Touré would persevere even without the acknowledgement. “Informing people is a calling. I do it on a non-profit basis,” he says.