- President Laurent Gbagbo is today urged to restart assisting the opposition press in Côte d'Ivoire and to bring order to the increasingly radical state-owned media. The President finally has condemned the ransacking of opposition and independent newspaper offices on 4 November.
The Paris-based media watchdog group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF) today welcomed the statement by Ivorian President Gbagbo, condemning the attacks on the independent press on 4 November and the opening of an investigation to punish those responsible. But the group called on him to "go further to ensure these newspapers can circulate freely again and to restore order within the state-owed media."
- While it is shameful for this condemnation to come three weeks after the event, we hail Laurent Gbagbo's apparent desire to see justice for dailies '24 Heures', 'Le Patriote', 'Le Nouveau Réveil', 'Le Jour', 'Le Front', 'Le Libéral Nouveau' and all newspapers silenced by the extremists, the watchdog group said.
- We hope that these investigations will be thorough and that those responsible, whoever they may be, will be genuinely punished, RSF added. To be consistent, the Ivorian authorities were however also advised to re-establish professionalism within the state-owned media and guarantee that gagged publications go back on sale at newsstands.
The government-influenced distribution company refuses to feed newsstands with opposition publications in southern Côte d'Ivoire, President Gbagbo's stronghold. "Once it has received assurances from the Head of State in person there should be no reason for distributor Edi Presse to refuse to deliver them," RSF commented.
A final statement from the Council of Ministers' meeting on 25 November, read on television by the government's spokesman, said that President Gbagbo condemned the destruction of opposition party headquarters and "the wrecking of some newspaper offices, violence against individuals, particularly foreigners, women and children."
- Such acts should not go unpunished, said the government statement, adding that President Gbagbo had announced that investigations were "under way" to find those responsible for acts of destruction, pillage and physical assaults.
A wave of exceptional violence was unleashed against press freedom on 4 November, the same day that Ivorian armed forces launched an offensive against positions of former rebels in the north of the country.
Pro-government militias ransacked some opposition newspapers, gagging part of the press, sabotaged FM broadcasts by 'Radio France Internationale' (RFI), 'BBC' and' Africa N°1' and ousted the Director-General of 'Radiotélévision Ivoirienne' (RTI) for a pro-government figure.
The state-owned media that enjoy a virtual monopoly in the economic capital, Abidjan, then turned themselves into propagandists for the President's party and its radical youth organisation the "Young Patriots". These media thus called for an anti-French uprising, putting out doom-laden and extremist news.
Journalists who could not work for their gagged newspapers were forced to live in hiding, more or less, before managing to publish a combined free issue, distributed unofficially on 22 November, thanks to a return to calm in the economic capital.
Private distributor Edi Presse, however, still refused to distribute the papers, citing "constant threats to destroy your dailies and to ransack offices." It also argued that "other newspaper sellers and other partners" feared "their activities could be endangered" as a result.
'Le Patriote', 'Le Jour', '24 Heures', 'Ivoire Matin', 'Le Libéral Nouveau', 'Le Nouveau Réveil' and 'Le Front' produced a further joint issue on 26 November, with a cover price, but still using an alternative distribution system.
FM broadcasts of 'RFI' and 'BBC' mysteriously returned to Abidjan on 24 November. Moreover, there was a noticeable change of tone on the airwaves of state-owned 'RTI' and 'Radio Côte d'Ivoire', which broadcast regular messages aimed at restoring calm.
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