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    Burundi bans BBC and Voice of America before referendum

    Authorities in Burundi have banned the BBC and Voice of America (VOA), as well as two local broadcasters, just weeks before a crucial constitutional referendum on presidential term limits.
    The National Communications Council (NCC) said on Friday that the news organisations' operations would be suspended for at least six months for breaching the "laws governing the press and ethics."
    The ban will come into effect on Monday, Karenga Ramadhani, the head of the regulator, told journalists in the capital, Bujumbura.
    The NCC said the BBC invited a Burundian who made "inappropriate, exaggerated, non-verified [remarks], damaging the reputation of the head of state, to ethnic hatred, to political conflict and civil disobedience".
    VOA, for its part, was accused of spreading "very tendentious" information and hiring a journalist "sought by Burundian justice", according to AFP news agency
    French broadcaster Radio France International was also issued a stern warning in the same statement, and was asked to put a more vigorous verification process in place.
    Two local broadcasters were also banned after the presidency complained their reporting was biased, the National Communications Council said.
    The BBC and VOA both broadcast daily in the national Kirundi language and have amassed a large following over the years, especially in rural areas.
    Amanda Bennett, VOA's director, denounced the regulator's action and said the news organisation's content would continue to be available through its shortwave channels, online and on FM transmitters located in neighbouring countries.
    "Our audience members count on VOA to provide factual, unbiased and objective coverage of current events, so this ban deprives the citizens of Burundi of a trusted news source during a critical time in that country," she said in a statement.
    "This is even more distressing coming only one day after World Press Freedom Day - a day calling for governments to remove, not impose, restrictions on the media," Bennett added.

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