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France19 October 2005

Journalists get death threats in Corsica after covering ferry company conflict

Reporters Without Borders said it was shocked by an escalation of violence against journalists in Corsica, and the general climate of insecurity there after two cameramen and a photographer were violently manhandled during demonstrations in Bastia.

The cameramen, working for France 2 and France 3 and a photographer for the news agency AFP, were attacked during demonstrations against the privatisation of the ferry company SNCM on 27 and 28 September, and 1st October.

Elsewhere, Jean-Marc Plantade, financial editor on the Parisien, received death threats by phone against himself and his family after publishing an article on 17 October headlined, "Scandal at the SNC". In the article he exposed alleged embezzlement of takings by some staff on board the company’s ferries.

"This situation, surprising within the European Union, is not however unusual on the island," the worldwide press freedom organisation said. “We offer our support to all those who have been attacked and received death threats since the demonstrations organised against the privatisation of the SNCM”

"We are ready to act as a civil party in any complaints that journalists might bring in the next few days. It is essential to break the law of silence that affects all journalists who work in Corsica or who handle Corsican affairs on the continent.”

"We call on the Interior Minister, Nicolas Sarkozy, to do his utmost to guarantee the safety of journalists on the island and those who are currently under threat on the continent,” said Reporters Without Borders.

“We received death threats on the switchboard of the Parisien and on my personal extension," said Plantade. They said: ‘We are going to kill you, you and your children’. “It’s a form of intellectual terrorism, and it’s up to the government to ensure that the people making these threats are put out of harm’s way ".

"I think it’s worth remembering that a prefect was murdered in Corsica not very long ago.” he told Reporters Without Borders.

Christophe Hilary, a cameraman with France 3 National, received a violent blow on the cheek on 28 September, while he was filming some 200 rioters, about one third of them hooded, who were attacking an EDF vehicle in the streets of Bastia."

"I was only filming the feet of the demonstrators and moreover, we are not police auxiliaries," he said. "We abide by a code of ethics, and we systematically refuse to hand over our pictures to the security forces when they ask for them. But we must be allowed to work in Corsica, just like anywhere else," he told Reporters Without Borders. The cameraman has made an official complaint.

Olivier Laban-Mattei, a photographer for AFP, was violently manhandled by demonstrators at the port of Bastia on 1st October while he was filming a plainclothes policeman being beaten up by some 15 hooded demonstrators.

The demonstrators seized his camera and threw it in the sea, but he managed to save the shots, which were published on 2 October in the Journal du Dimanche and on the front page of the Parisien. Corse-Matin unfortunately published them on the following day, without blurring the picture, thus making one of the demonstrators recognisable. AFP also sold a series of 12 pictures that were published in the review Choc on 6 October.

Since the pictures were published, Laban-Mattei, who is of Corsican origin and who has worked on the island for six years, received a number of threats that were reported by several of his colleagues who are permanently based in Corsica. The photographer has decided to bring a complaint and Reporters Without Borders will be a civil party to the case.

"I quickly took the decision to by-line my photos so as to protect my colleagues on the spot. I think it’s unfortunate, to have to lower one’s camera, if one wants to continue following events in Corsica.” he told Reporters Without Borders.

"I’m afraid for Olivier, and I fear he will no longer be able to work in Corsica as he did before. We’re not in Iraq but you have to realise we are working in difficult conditions here", said Patrick Vella, a journalist on France 3 Corse who has been working on the island for 25 years, and received death threats himself in 2004.

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