The Ivorian press suffers from a number of ills and presents many problems. Journalists working in Abidjan have to deal with numerous and dangerous challenges. They face death threats, are admired or hated by supporters of whichever camp, forced underground or into exile and stunned by political violence that has destabilised the country for more than five years. Some have turned themselves into obedient servants of those who give orders, the political actors who know how to manipulate a fragile press and journalists who are either underpaid or unpaid altogether. A few others are waiting for better days, while others battle to save their profession, in a way that makes the front page of newspapers often look more like a political tract than the first page of a news service. Otherwise, the national sport to be found in Abidjan each morning consists of “street parliaments” which debate the huge eye-catching headlines on the front pages of the dailies.
In the north of the country, which is held by the former rebels of the New Forces (FN), the public media frequency has been pirated by a propaganda radio and television and there is limited newspaper distribution. Laurent Gbagbo’s government considers the international press, and in particular Radio France Internationale (RFI), as an enemy voice. It has therefore completely suspended its FM broadcasts, diminishing still further the Ivorian media landscape.
On the eve of the adoption of a new resolution by the UN Security Council in May 2005, Reporters Without Borders released a mission report entitled, “Time to disarm minds, pens and microphones”. As the country headed for presidential elections at the end of October, the organisation proposed a series of measures to remove the challenge of “hate media” which poison a political climate that is already violent enough.
Against this backdrop of outrage, French-Canadian journalist Guy-André Kieffer, who was kidnapped in April 2004, is still missing. A French examining magistrate has travelled to Abidjan four times to interview the chief witnesses and to carry out investigations. He questioned the last man known to have seen Kieffer alive, Michel Legré, brother-in-law of the wife of the head of state, Simone Gbagbo. He was charged with abduction and holding a hostage and spent more than a year in custody in Abidjan, before being released provisionally at the end of 2005. To counter the climate of intimidation in which he was forced to conduct interviews, the French magistrate asked to be allowed to transfer the suspect to France. So far he has been unsuccessful, his request held up at the office of the head of state, whose mandate has been extended by the international community, since it has not been possible to organise elections. The most likely lead, given by Michel Legré, is that involving the entourage of President Gbagbo and in particular his minister of economy and finance, Paul Bohoun Bouabré. Before he was kidnapped, the journalist was investigating embezzlement of money in the cocoa trade, the Cote d’Ivoire’s main resource.