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France6 May 2004

Reporters Without Borders condemns intimidation and boycott of La Provence by mayor of Orange

Some 50 supporters of the far-right Front National (FN) marched against the local editorial office of the daily newspaper La Provence in Orange, Vaucluse, brandishing placards and accusing it of "disinformation".

Reporters Without Borders called on the mayor to halt intimidation and a boycott run for several months against journalists on La Provence. The 6 May march was led by the FN town mayor Jacques Bompard and his wife Marie-Claude Bompard, a departmental councillor.

"Whatever differences of opinion there may be between the mayor and the daily, the journalists should be allowed access to information and be able to handle it freely, without suffering intimidation or discrimination from the local authorities," the international press freedom organisation said.

The demonstrators marched on the offices, brandishing placards reading "Provence Propaganda" and carried a banner reading, "Welcome to the house of disinformation".

They also handed out leaflets justifying the demonstration, that read: "For months La Provence has been carrying on an almost daily battle against the town of Orange and in particular its mayor, Jacques Bompard. (...) This real aversion is leading the newspaper to regularly dish up its readers with disinformation."

Christine Blanc, of La Provence’s local staff told Reporters Without Borders that the mayor’s behaviour was preventing journalists from working normally. She said, "The mayor does not tolerate us giving space to anyone who does not agree with them. In fact, they would like us to be municipal journal," she complained.

During the spring of 2003, Christine Blanc and Stéphanie Esposito, from La Provence, were personally singled out several times, including by the mayor himself. "As long as these two are there we cannot work," town hall spokesman André-Yves Beck told Reporters Without Borders.

"We don’t want them to lick our boots, but we want to be treated fairly and for them to stop spitting in our faces. It is our right not to give information," he said.

For editor René Gérard, who backs the two journalists it is a case of "intimidation".

Relations between the mayor and the local editorial team of La Provence have deteriorated constantly since 2002. The municipal council accuses La Provence of supporting the opposition and covering municipal affairs partially and inaccurately.

On their side, the journalists say they are victims of a downright boycott and complain that they get no information from the registry office and do not receive town hall photos or press statements. In Spring 2003, the council openly boasted of its stance by putting up a board in front of its offices reading "Why you no longer find news about the town of Orange in La Provence", and in several articles in the municipal journal like "Provprop" or Disinfoprov? How the press spreads disinformation..."

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