Dateline Bamako

“It’s going well, there is lots of work to do, you have to fight.” These are the first impressions of Gérard Tschopp, media expert in Mali with Fondation Hirondelle to create ‘Studio Tamani.’ Interview by Dominique Jaccard.

Dominique Jaccard: What is the status of the Studio Tamani launch?
Gérard Tschopp: The project is progressing. Studio production and editing suites will be installed at the Maison de la Presse in Bamako. The recruitment call for journalists and technicians was issued, as well as the process for radio broadcast partners, which will be as fair and transparent as possible.

DJ: What is the atmosphere?
GT: There is a palpable effervescence in Bamako at the moment. The United Nations agencies are reinforcing their presence; the European Union is here, as are a great number of NGOs. Everyone is feeling an enormous need. It’s a true challenge for Fondation Hirondelle to exist within this magma.

DJ: What makes ‘Studio Tamani’ stand out compared to the many other radios that already exist in Mali?
GT: I believe that Studio Tamani will readily fill a need. And this view is shared by other media actors, all working from different perspectives. Whether it’s our partner, URTEL, the Union of Free Radio and Television of Mali, private radio stations, whether commercial or associations, including ORTM, the State broadcaster, everyone is waiting with some impatience for the arrival of Studio Tamani.

DJ: For what reasons?
GT: The media landscape has completely erupted in Mali. There are nearly 300 radios, several dailies, weeklies etc., so at first glance a wealth of diversity when it comes to the press. In reality the media is extremely poor in information and most often it remains relatively partisan. There is a real need for professional and rigorous journalism. The expectation is that it will be a real asset to the country for Studio Tamani to broadcast information in five languages and hold debates and discussions. I think that the debates will be a middle ground in a troubled time, where dialogue and reconciliation have not yet become a reality.

DJ: Studio Tamani will be a production studio with broadcast on existing radios?
GT: From the outset, Fondation Hirondelle has chosen not to create a new radio but to support existing radios and to show that it is possible to be more impartial and rigorous in the treatment of information. Studio Tamani is composed of a team of 15 permanent staff who will produce news and programming for broadcast by radio stations in the URTEL network, which includes 270 stations throughout Mali. These range from rural stations that broadcast a few hours a day to more professional radios. Initially, 24 radio partners will air programming from Studio Tamani. Once these are established our aim is to air on 60 radio stations. These will be broadcast throughout all regions of the country.

DJ: National programming and reach is of particular importance?
GT: For me, it’s the key to success of the project. This is one of the central issues for Studio Tamani: a presence in all regions of the country, with proximity to the refugee camps as well. Now we know that in the north there are considerable difficulties in terms of logistics, human resources. There are radios that were completely destroyed and will need rebuilding. There are others that are extraordinarily poor in materials and resources. Therefore, there are great challenges. But our broadcast partner radios will represent the diversity of the country.

DJ: Can you give us a taste of the porgamming?
GT: There will be a daily news bulletin in five major languages that we expect to reach more than 90% of the population. We will also have a daily 45-minute debate. The debate will be conducted in French, but all national languages may intervene. We’ll have the studio skills to enable listeners to respond to their questions, comments or criticism in their native language. The state broadcaster ORTM is interested to take up these debates, which is significant as we enter the election period. News and programs will be available for free download on the Studio Tamani website.

DJ: What’s the on-air launch date?
GT: We have been given three months to get the project up and running. We must first restore the premises, get our materials and install the studio. There is also a period of journalism training, in technique and ethic. The objective is to be on the air on August 15th.

Photo: H.Caux/UNHCR