The siege of the state broadcaster RadioTélévision Ivoirienne (RTI) by several hundred Young Patriots was lifted last night and normal programming resumed today, Reporters Without Borders has learned. Most employees were able to return to their posts and talks are under way to “identify the lessons to be drawn” from the events of the past few days, a source close to the management said.
Some 300 supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo known as Young Patriots overran the RTI building on 18 January and forced technicians to broadcast calls for people “to take to the streets to liberate the country.” They then stationed themselves outside the RTI building, located in Cocody district of Abidjan. Yesterday evening, they were still pledging to stay there until the UN peacekeepers and the French Licorne peacekeeping force left the country.
After Young Patriot leader Charles Blé Goudé gave his followers the order to end the demonstrations, the barricades and roadblocks throughout the greater Abidjan area have been gradually lifted and the groups have dispersed. Throughout the past few days, Côte d’Ivoire’s journalists have had to work under a constant threat of violence. Some went into hiding. Others were beaten or threatened by demonstrators.
18.01.2006 - Young Patriots seize unprotected state broadcaster for use as propaganda tool for violence and insurrection
Reporters Without Borders voiced outrage today that calls for insurrection have again been broadcast by the state-owned RadioTélévision Ivoirienne (RTI) under threat from demonstrators claiming to be the supporters of President Laurent Gbagbo.
In November 2004, the organisation condemned the use of RTI by Gbagbo’s Young Patriots to mobilise their supporters and organise insurrectional violence. And in May 2005, it recommended permanent military protection for the installations and transmitters of RTI and the state-owned Radio Côte d’Ivoire (RCI) to prevent them being seized and used by the proponents of violence and hate.
“History is repeating itself because the calls for military protection for the state media were not heeded,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Côte d’Ivoire’s state media have again fallen into the hands of the proponents of violence, and no time should be lost in taking energetic measures. The installations of RTI and RCI should be made secure or, failing that, they should be taken off the air.”
Several hundred Young Patriots gathered outside RTI headquarters in the Codody district of Abidjan at around noon on 16 January and demanded to “make a statement live on the air.” Witnesses said they were led by the chief of staff of the National Armed Forces (FANCI), Gen. Philippe Mangou, and the head of the Security Operations Command Centre (CECOS), Col. Georges Guiai Bi Poin.
Those in charge of the station refused to yield to the demands. After the demonstrators had tried to force their way into the studios, RTI’s executives attempted to negotiate a compromise during much of the afternoon. The demonstrators finally agreed to the principle of a pre-recorded statement.
The next day, around a hundred demonstrators were still camped near RTI headquarters while Ivorian soldiers guarded the perimeter. Questioned by Reporters Without Borders, a soldier said his unit was there to deter the Young Patriots from overrunning the building.
Around 300 demonstrators entered the courtyard of the RTI building at around midday on 18 January after the security forces opened the gates. “But they were not able to enter the offices, which were still locked,” Agence France-Presse (AFP) was told by a source close to the management.
However, after threatening the technicians on duty, they got them to broadcast a message by the leader of the Student and School Federation (FESCI), Serge Koffi, urging all young people to take to the streets to demand the departure of foreign troops and “our country’s complete liberation.” Koffi also claimed that he had “taken” the TV station. After the 1 p.m. news bulletin, RTI remained occupied by the Young Patriots, who continued to issue calls for action and, at around 4:30 p.m., called on demonstrators to “take the airport.”
Reporters Without Borders issued a report on Côte d’Ivoire last May, entitled “Time to disarm minds, pens and microphones,” in which it stressed the urgent need to secure the various sites and transmitters of RTI and RCI by deploying a joint force formed by Ivorian army personnel, UN peacekeepers and members of the French Licorne contingent.
“After the wave of political violence that began on 4 November , not to speak of the way Gen. Robert Gueï declared himself winner in the October 2000 presidential election, it is inconceivable that the international community, in the run-up to a key election, does not secure what would clearly be a target in any attempt to derail the process,” the report said.
“A joint force formed by Ivorian army personnel, UN peacekeepers and members of the French Licorne contingent must be deployed at once,” the report continued. “If it is not mandated by the UN to resist any eventual attack, it should at least be authorized to neutralize the national installations of RTI and RCI in the event of a violent takeover, which would entail a possibility of new hate messages and calls for murder on the air.”
Reporters Without Borders also recommended in its report that RTI’s installations in the interior should be repaired and put back to work, pointing out that the public information service has not covered the entire country since partition in September 2002 and that its frequencies are being used by the former rebel New Forces in the north of the country for their own propaganda broadcasts.