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Cote d’Ivoire27 May 2005

Time to "disarm minds, pens and microphones"

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Reporters Without Borders urges the international community to support Ivorian journalists in their struggle for free and responsible journalism and to challenge "hate media" in a land divided since September 2002 - at the end of an on-the spot investigation in the country from 7-14 May 2005.

Releasing its report, the worldwide press freedom organisation said the international community had a duty to come to the aid of Ivorians who, "for a long time and despite all the dangers, have been fighting for journalism to be practised both freely and responsibly".

As the UN Security Council prepares a new resolution on Cote d’Ivoire to decide on the involvement of the international community in elections scheduled for October 2005, Reporters Without Borders wishes to contribute to lifting the country out of the crisis as set out in Pretoria Accord on 6 April and firmed up on 14 May with the adoption of a timetable for Disarmament, Demobilisation and Re-integration (DDR) of the warring forces.

In its report, Reporters Without Borders advocates a number of urgent measures "as an alternative to ineffective outrage and letting the media criminals go unpunished on the grounds that ’they are part of the problem and therefore must be part of the solution.’ " As a columnist in the Ivorian daily Fraternité Matin wrote, it is time to "disarm minds, pens and microphones."

Pointing once again to the serious ethical problems in Cote d’Ivoire, the organisation proposes "a realistic strategy for emerging from the vicious circle of impunity or at least stemming the worse press offences". To achieve this objective, it recommends specific action plans for each press sector.

For the written press, Reporters Without Borders recommends to the Ivorian authorities that they work closely with the Press Freedom, Ethics and Conduct Watchdog (OLPED) to seek appropriate forms of state assistance (such as a special tax regime, newsprint and distribution subsidies, government and state agency subscriptions) to make newspapers less dependent on "those who give orders," political players who exploit a fragile press and under-paid journalists.

The organisation points out that the OLPED is a pioneer in sub-Saharan Africa and, despite certain legitimate criticisms that could be levelled at it, represents a valuable tool for regulating the sector in a fair and consensual manner.

It stresses that the most urgent need as regards the broadcasting sector is to secure the various sites of the state radio and television broadcasters, Radio-Télévision ivoirienne (RTI) and Radio Côte d’Ivoire (RCI), using a joint force of Ivorian army personnel, UN peacekeepers and members of the French Licorne contingent.

All these installations also need urgent repair and to be put back into service across the country. The organisation points out that since the partition of the country there is no public service news and information serving the whole country and that in the north, public radio and television frequencies have been taken over by the propaganda station of former rebels.

Elsewhere, Reporters Without Borders considers that the Ivorian council of minister should adopt "terms and conditions" setting out the obligations and professional rules to observe in the pre-electoral campaign and the forthcoming polling.

"As peace is the overriding goal," the organisation "exceptionally proposes, following consultation between the Ivorian authorities and journalists, that implementation of a new press law passed in December 2004, but for which no decree has yet been published on its application, "should be delayed until immediately after the elections scheduled for October". While recognising and welcoming their liberal nature, Reporters Without Borders considers that such a delay would give Ivorian media time to prepare financially for the planned changes and to remove a source of conflict in the pre-electoral period, leaving in place unchallenged the current management of RTI, which it believes able to guarantee the public service’s impartiality.

Finally, the organisation "appeals to the UN to bring its actions in Cote d’Ivoire into line with the condemnations of hate media that it has made in New York. Reporters Without Borders believes that its media reinforcement programme must be overhauled as soon as possible. It is moreover "unacceptable", independently of any new initiatives, "that a blacklist of journalists allegedly guilty of hate messages was compiled and then suppressed, without any judicial follow-up."

This list, which contains 95 names, chiefly of political-military protagonists to the conflict, accused of instigating serious abuses or being "obstacles to peace", was sent in January 2005 to the International Criminal Court (ICC), but has been taken no further, for fear of harming ongoing South African mediation. "If these cases are not referred to the International Criminal Court in an effective manner, the UN should do its duty and publish the ’blacklist’, if only to achieve the famous ’shame factor’ against the hate media and the journalists concerned", Reporters Without Borders concludes.



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