- A new report claims to document that President Laurent Gbagbo of Côte d'Ivoire personally ordered the 4 November attack on opposition media and hijacking of state media. State media, on President Gbagbo's orders, thus started spreading xenophobic 'hate messages', according to the report.
This was today reported by the Paris-based media freedom group Reporters sans Frontières (RSF), in its report "Chronicle of a state media hijack". Earlier, the so-called 'Young Democrats' of President Gbagbo's ruling party and other pro-government militant groups had been blamed for the 4 November attack on Ivorian media.
- Seizing control of the state media was one of the linchpins of President Laurent Gbagbo's failed bid to recover all of Cote d'Ivoire's territory, the report says. In just one morning, on 4 November, supporters of the President and his party succeeded in hijacking 'Radiotélévision Ivoirienne' (RTI) and 'Radio Côte d'Ivoire' (RCI) and in closing all independent Abidjan media.
A new staff of presenters and journalists ready to take editorial orders was put in place. From this day on and throughout rioting that shook Abidjan for nearly a week, state TV and radio broadcasts "descended into peddling propaganda, relaying incitement to murder, putting out lies and orders to foment violence in the street," the RSF report recalls.
At daybreak on 4 November, "on the orders of President Gbagbo," Côte d'Ivoire's national armed forces (Fanci) launched operation 'Dignity'. Their objective was to forcibly retake the north of the country, which has been in the hands of the rebel Force Nouvelle since 19 September 2002.
At around 9 am the same day, a significant military detachment took up a position in the courtyard of RTI. Civilian vehicles followed in their wake. Out of them stepped Georges Aboké, the channel's former managing director, Jean-Paul Dahily, its former general secretary and an advisor to the President, and Silvère Nebout, the Head of State's communications advisor. They were escorted to the top floor of the building where the management offices are located.
Then, in an atmosphere of open rebellion, Mr Dahily was installed as managing director of RTI. He and Mr Aboké had been dismissed from RTI after Guillaume Soro - Communications Minister in the national reconciliation government and Secretary-General of the Forces Nouvelles - narrowly escaped a lynching at the hands of 'Young Patriots' while visiting RTI head office on 27 June 2003.
All heads of RTI's news programmes were immediately replaced. Programming was completely rescheduled. Journalists earlier dismissed from RTI were suddenly back on the airwaves.
- Undesirable journalists and contributors started coming in for mistreatment, RSF reports. On 4 November, Koné Lanciné, the channel's editor, told RSF that he received three phone calls advising him "to get out" of his office. His name was reportedly on a "blacklist" of journalists to be removed. Fearing for his safety, he immediately left work and has not returned since. He recounted that a few minutes later a group of 'Young Patriots' burst into his office looking for him.
On 5 November, a sports journalist, Julien N'Guessan, also general secretary of the news staff union (SYNINFO), was attacked on arrival for work by a group of 'Young Patriots' who had set up camps in front of RTI offices. Some 20 of them threatened to lynch him saying they were "fed up with his union" and tried to bundle him into a car. Police had to forcefully intervene to stop his abduction.
While President Gbagbo has since that given into international pressure to stop xenophobic 'hate messages' from being broadcasted from state media, the pro-government "parallel" management remains in place. Indeed, on 4 December, the 'Young Patriots' positioned around the headquarters of national radio and television to "protect it from possible attack by the French Army."
- In a democracy, nothing can justify a political clan submitting state-owed media to its diktats, RSF said in a statement released today. "RTI and RCI need to operate again in a professional and calm atmosphere and free from government control for the return to normality heralded by the Ivorian authorities not to appear as a sham," the French group said.
The media watchdogs demanded that President Gbagbo's team withdraw from TTI and RCI. "The legitimate team, led by Kébé Yacouba, should be allowed to operate normally again as soon as possible, in line with the job entrusted to it by the President of the Republic in January 2004. In addition all public media staff should be provided with the means to work in safety," RSF said.
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