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article imageOp-Ed: Journalists mostly unable to cover Mali conflict effectively

By Ken Hanly     Jan 28, 2013 in World
Bamako - While the French, together with Malian forces, have managed to retake much of the territory formerly occupied by rebels, there has been little coverage of what is happening from anywhere near the front.
In spite of this being the age of live-streaming and Twitter, there are few images and few reports from the battle areas in Mali. This is the way the French, and no doubt others, want it. From the rebels in Syria we often see destruction caused by Assad regime attacks. We hear reports of repeated bombing raids by the French but see almost nothing of the result so far. Casualties are not reported.
Some reporters are embedded with French troops but they are kept well away from operations and mostly briefed about logistics. The global media group, Reporters Without Borders issued a statement condemning the "media blackout" that has been imposed by French and Malian military:"In times of conflict, it is up to journalists and the media, and not the military, to determine the risks that they are willing to take to gather information" the international media organisation Reporters Without Borders said in a statement denouncing the "media blackout" imposed by French and Malian military. information."
The French have not organised a single press conference in the capital of Mali, Bamako. The sole French media official in Bamako is apparently there mainly to refer media questions to Paris. The Malian army has banned journalists and human rights organisations even from areas that had been in their control for a number of days. It would seem that journalists have now managed to report from some of these areas on some human rights violations by the Malian forces.
Whenever operations are underway, communications are cut off. Destin Grimadi, a Malian journalist, said that the Malian defense ministry rarely gives press conferences or shares information with national media. He said:"We are frustrated by the behavior of the military, not letting us go into the field." An Al Jazeera article speaks of Mali, as a war without images. Certainly there is a contrast between what we see coming out of Syria and the paucity of coverage of Mali even though the Assad regime also restricts reporters.
Al Jazeera was not able to obtain any estimates of casualties. Reporters could not ascertain where prisoners were being held or under what conditions. The International Committee of the Red Cross had no comment about any prisoners it may have visited or conditions under which they were held. Doctors Without Borders(MSF) did not even know where those injured in the fighting were being treated. However, a partner group with MSF had treated 30 people in the city of Timbuktu. A source in another main town recently captured said that he had seen dozens of bodies of rebel fighters in the hospital there.
Humanitarian organisations report that they have yet to gain access to help tens of thousands of people in the aftermath of the fighting. The Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs says that about 12,000 have been displaced since January 10. There are already over 140,000 Malians who fled to Burkina Faso, Mauritania, and Niger last year.
French President Hollande no doubt hopes to turn over the fray to African forces once France has cleared the main cities. Dr. Oumar Mariko, a left-leaning politician who ran twice for president told Al Jazeera that the French were trying to manage the news: "Their version of events is all that anyone will hear. But when this is over, Malians will talk to each other and quickly learn the truth."
While France may retain some presence in Mali, the plan is to leave a 6,000 strong force from West African countries to hold the territory retaken by the French along with Malian forces. As Mariko puts it: "Most of those African leaders [offering troops] toe the line when it comes to the French agenda. They will apply the French agenda, in France's place."
Perhaps more images will come in from recaptured areas as time passes and security improves. We may even get some stock photos carefully selected to tell the story as it is supposed to be told. However, as mentioned earlier, some journalists are already gathering information about human rights violations by Malian forces.
This opinion article was written by an independent writer. The opinions and views expressed herein are those of the author and are not necessarily intended to reflect those of
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