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France26 June 2003

National Front-run town hall urged to end boycott of local newspaper

Reporters Without Borders today urged the town hall of Orange in southern France to resume providing information to journalists of the local La Provence newspaper and to abandon plans to file suit against the newspaper. The town hall, which is run by the far-right National Front, has given the newspaper no information since March because it did not like its coverage of a town council meeting.

"Whatever your difference of views with this newspaper, journalists must be able to report the news freely, without being subject to pressure or discrimination on the part of the authorities," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Robert Ménard said in a letter to mayor Jacques Bompard.

The town hall’s boycott was "both a violation of the right of journalists to inform their readers and a violation of the right of your voters to be informed as they see fit," Ménard said.

The town hall accuses La Provence of favouring the opposition and of biased and inaccurate coverage of its activities. After initial hostilities lasting five months, normal relations were gradually reestablished in the autumn of 2002. But the crisis broke out again at the end of March because the town hall did not like the newspaper’s coverage of the town council meeting held on 26 March, accusing it of ignoring budget matters in order to play up opposition attempts to embarrass the municipal administration.

Since then, the town hall has sent the newspaper no municipal records, photographs or press releases, preventing it from providing normal coverage. The boycott has been defended in a poster outside the town hall entitled "Why you won’t find any news about Orange in La Provence," and in several articles in the municipal magazine accusing La Provence of disinformation.

Two of the newspaper’s reporters, Christine Blanc and Stéphanie Esposito, have been singled out for repeated criticism by the town hall’s staff and the mayor himself. "As long as those two persons are there, we won’t be able to work together," town hall spokesman André-Yves Beck told Reporters Without Borders. "We don’t expect them to polish out boots, but they should treat us in an appropriate fashion and not spit in our face," he said. Beck denied any censorship or boycott, but insisted that, "it’s our right not to give them any information."

La Provence editor René Gérard, for his part, is refusing to replace the two journalists. "This is intimidation," he said.

The town hall is now reportedly planning to file a lawsuit against the newspaper, in particular, over an 18 April editorial by Gérard headlined: "Orange invents municipal censorship."

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