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Côte d’Ivoire16 January 2003

Reporters Without Borders calls on participants in the Ivory Coast peace talks to make a commitment to a freer and more responsible press

Reporters Without Borders has written to all the delegations taking part in the Ivory Coast peace talks being held in Linas-Marcoussis (south of Paris) between 15 and 24 January 2003, asking them to raise the issue of the media in the Ivory Coast. The organisation urges the political parties and rebel movements present to make a real commitment to establishing a freer and more responsible press in the country. They should in particular take measures to ensure the safety of all journalists - Ivorian or foreign - working in the Ivory Coast. The fact that journalists are regularly arrested, attacked or threatened is unacceptable.

In addition, politicians and leaders of the rebel movements should encourage the press to take a more responsible attitude. Failure to respect any ethical or professional code is rife in the country. A number of publications have no hesitation in publishing racist or xenophobic articles, putting the safety of large numbers of people at risk. Le National, L’oeil du peuple, and the newspaper of the party in power, Notre Voie, are among such media organs that constantly stoke the flames of conflict by publishing inflammatory editorials and articles inciting violence.

The Observatoire de la liberté de la presse, de l’éthique et de la déontologie (OLPED) can no longer content itself with merely publishing communiqués calling the press to order. This self-regulatory body must be given real powers to impose sanctions. For example, it should be able to force offending newspapers to publish any "right to reply" sent to them, in line with Articles 9, 28, and 29 of the Press Law. OLPED should also be consulted before the issue or withdrawal of press cards.

Finally, the Ivorian Popular Front ( FPI, the party in power) and the Patriotic Movement of Ivory Coast (MPCI, the rebel movement in the north of the country) should demand that media under their control scrupulously respect a professional code of ethics. The state radio and television (RTI) in Abidjan is a public service and should respect a genuine pluralism of information by allowing all the political tendencies in the country to express themselves.

The television channel Notre Patrie and the newspaper Liberté, controlled by the rebel movements in Bouake, should make sure that the Ivorian population is correctly informed and should seek to calm the situation.

The press in the Ivory Coast is both a victim of the crisis facing the country today and partly responsible for it. Since the attempted coup on 19 September 2002, numerous reporters - both Ivorian and foreign - have been beaten up by members either of the state police force or rebel movements. Media professionals are arrested, attacked or threatened almost every day. But the press is also playing a pernicious role in this crisis. "We, Ivorian journalists, have paved the way for war. We have to take responsibility for that. With our words of hate, our diatribes, we paved the way for war in the minds of the Ivorian people," admitted a former editor to Reporters Without Borders during an investigative mission in October 2002.

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