Cote d’Ivoire: Press in turmoil after Gbagbo fall

13 May 2011 at 03:00 | 1326 views

Reporters Without Borders is disturbed by developments in Cte d’Ivoire, where a month after Laurent Gbagbo’s fall, a question mark hangs over press freedom. Newspapers loyal to the deposed leader are failing to appear or are even under occupation by backers of President Alassane Ouattara.

"The absence of an opposition press constitutes a major blow to press freedom in Cte d’Ivoire,” the press freedom organization said.

“Under these conditions we fear that the reign of a single, orthodox way of thinking is coming into being. The government of Alassane Ouattara raises expectations in the field of respect of liberties. It must satisfy them.”

Although some journalists who were under threat have in the end been able to resume work, opposition papers that backed Gbagbo are still not appearing and the offices of the daily Notre Voie, which supports Gbagbo’s Ivorian Popular Front (FPI) party, are even under armed occupation.

“We express our disappointment and call on the new authorities to take rapid action to restore a climate of confidence among journalists and above all to allow opposition newspapers to prepare to go on sale again,” Reporters Without Borders said.

There is no official obstacle to the appearance of opposition newspapers but the sacking of the editorial offices of the dailies Notre Voie and Le Temps and an arson attack on their printing works have resulted in major damage. Furthermore the editorial offices of Notre Voie have been occupied for some time by troops of the pro-Ouattara Republican Forces of Cte d’Ivoire (FRCI), which are preventing access by journalists.

"This is an entirely new situation,” Reporters Without Borders said.

“In the past the offices of the Patriote, a daily that supports Ouattara, were attacked and badly damaged, but never occupied as is the case today with Notre Voie. We do not understand the behaviour of the FRCI, who are in flagrant violation of the right of the staff of this newspaper to go to their place of work. ”

In a speech to the National Press Council to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, interior and communication minister Hamed Bakayoko made remarks that were worrying for the media. His words appeared to amount to a warning.

"Freedom yes, but it has its limits,” he said.

“Freedom has a certain boundary. You can no longer talk of freedom when it transcends certain values. People thought there was unlimited impunity. They have to realise that this is no longer possible. You cannot destabilise the social fabric just because you are a journalist.”

Bakayoko added: “We are not going to accept that the press drags down Cte d’Ivoire. The press bears a major responsibility in this crisis. Newspapers and journalists wanted to be in the vanguard of politicians, they wanted to go further than the politicians.”

Reporters Without Borders further condemns the manner in which the Ivorian press persistently publishes articles singling out certain well-known figures for public hatred.

On 10 May the daily Nord-Sud published a picture of the editor of Notre Voie, Csar Etou, to illustrate an article headlined: "Csar Etou fans the flames of hatred.” It accused him of having contacted human rights organizations to complain about the lack of respect of the rights of the ex-president’s wife, Simone Gbagbo, and her entourage since their arrest.

While awaiting the resumption of broadcasting by state-owned Radio-Tlvision Ivoirienne (RTI), Reporters Without Borders urges Tlvision Cte d’Ivoire (TCI) to act as a public service medium and to stop broadcasting the campaign slogans and songs that Ouattara used when he was a candidate. TCI was created by the Ouattara camp as part of a resistance movement but, now that he is president and it has replaced RTI, it should address all Ivorians.

Insofar as broadcasting is still entirely under government control in Cte d’Ivoire, the new authorities should clarify TCI’s exact current status. When it was created in early 2011, it was a pirate station.

Reporters Without Borders finally notes that the National Council for Broadcasting Communication (CNCA) has been turned into the High Authority for Broadcasting Communication. Former communication minister Ibrahim Sy Savan’s appointment to head the new body is a promising sign of inclusiveness. Reporters Without Borders hopes his appointment will give an impetus to reforms that will open up broadcasting.