Reporters Without Borders has provided President Laurent Gbagbo, Prime Minister Seydou Diarra and communication minister Guillaume Soro with recommendations on how to encourage a more professional news media. This was done in response to the interest they had expressed to a delegation which the organisation sent to Côte d’Ivoire last week.
The recommendations were made in letters addressed separately to each of the three officials yesterday. When they met with the Reporters Without Borders delegation last week, they said they would like to see a more professional news media emerge in Côte d’Ivoire, one that showed more respect for professional ethics. During its visit to Abidjan and Bouaké from 7 to 11 April, the delegation also met with newspaper editors and the representatives of press and journalists’ organisations. The recommendations were as follows:
Reinforce press watchdog
Reporters Without Borders firstly urged the authorities to strengthen the operational capacity of the Press Freedom and Press Ethics Monitoring Centre (OLPED), a self-regulatory body that needs a government subsidy to cover its running costs.
In 2002, the OLPED urged the commission that assigns press cards to sanction several journalists by withdrawing or suspending their press cards or refusing to issue them with press cards. For the most part, the commission followed these recommendations. However the authorities should also offer facilities and benefits to journalists who have this press card (such as lower fares for air and land travel, and tax benefits). This would encourage journalists to try to obtain the press card and would encourage them to respect professional ethics.
The authorities should also provide financing for a fund to assist the news media, making it conditional on their respecting professional ethics. The government should involve the OLPED in the creation of this fund and should take account of its recommendations. Any news organisation that keeps on being condemned in the OLPED’s communiques should be barred from benefiting from this fund.
Monitor state-owned media and poll the public’s view of the press
The state-owned news media have on several occasions been accused of carrying hate messages, and thereby violating the spirit of public service. President Gbagbo said those in charge of the state-owned media still acted as if there was a one-party state and paid scant heed to the need for pluralism. The prime minister and communication minister also spoke of serious shortcomings and said they were determined to bring about a complete change in editorial attitudes. At the same time, all three said they would not permit any "witch-hunt" within the state-owned media.
Now that there is a government of national reconciliation and a new communication minister, Reporters Without Borders believes mechanisms must be set up to monitor the state-owned news media (print media, radio and TV), to ensure that there is diversity in news reporting and that all political currents have access.
The organisation also believes that an opinion poll should be carried out to establish how the Ivorian public perceives the local and international news media. This would enable a better understanding of the relationship between the media and their readers, listeners and viewers and how to respond to their needs.
A prize for journalistic merit
Several journalists suggested to the Reporters Without Borders delegation that there should be a Côte d’Ivoire journalism award. The prize would be awarded to one or more journalists who showed exemplary respect for press ethics in their reporting. The prime minister offered his full support for this initiative, in which the OLPED and other press organisations (journalists’ associations and unions) should be involved.
The problem of training
Others raised the problem of journalism training, which is virtually non-existent in Côte d’Ivoire. Most young journalists have a qualification in communication and advertising, but none has received any specific training in the work of a journalist. The former editor of a state-owned news media said these young graduates had not even been trained in how to write a news brief.
Reporters Without Borders therefore urges the authorities to carry out a thorough overhaul of the relevant curricula, so that they should in particular incorporate practical instruction in journalistic writing and in professional ethics and practices.
At the same time, everyone Reporters Without Borders spoke to agreed that the seminars and workshops organised by various international organisations in Côte d’Ivoire were useless. "Journalists attend just to get the per diem and there is no impact on the way they report the news," one Ivorian editor said.
President Gbagbo’s undertakings
During his meeting with Reporters Without Borders, President Gbagbo said he had "solutions to all of Côte d’Ivoire’s problems except the press problem." He announced a draft law eliminating prison sentences for press offences and the opening up of the broadcast sector by 2005. Reporters Without Borders welcomes these measures and points out that, if the law is adopted, Côte d’Ivoire would become the first country in Africa to eliminate prison terms for press offences.
Prime Minister Diarra’s undertakings
The prime minister indicated that he was determined to improve the Ivorian press. He said changes would be needed in the state-owned news media if they did not quickly start to work for national reconciliation. He also said he was ready to support all proposals that would help the state and privately-owned media develop and progress. "We share the same struggle," he told Reporters Without Borders.
Communication minister Soro’s undertakings
The new communication minister said his mission was to "implement the Marcoussis accords." He said he wanted to see the Ivorian news media work for "national reconciliation" and display greater "professionalism" and "pluralism." He voiced agreement with the president on the elimination of prison terms for press offences and the opening up of broadcasting. He indicated he was inclined to support setting up fund to assist the press as long as this did not mean "rewarding mediocrity." He said his goal was to restore "calm" for journalists and ensure their safety.