Radio France Internationale suspended

New York, July 15, 2005—A media regulatory agency has ordered Radio France Internationale (RFI) to halt its broadcasts in Ivory Coast until it retracts two disputed reports and pays a fine. The order is the latest incident pitting Ivoirian authorities against the France-based public broadcaster, whom President Laurent Gbagbo’s supporters accuse of being biased against the government. RFI’s Paris headquarters issued a statement today protesting the suspension, and defending its news coverage.

The National Council on Communication (known as the CNCA) accused RFI of failing to get comment from military sources in a recent piece on the death of a military commander; and of citing a UN report on civilian massacres, the existence of which was later denied by a UN mission spokesman. In its statement, RFI stood by its reporting, saying it had properly verified and cross-checked its information.

The CNCA ordered RFI to cease all Ivory Coast FM broadcasts starting tonight at midnight, and to pay a fine of 9 million CFA francs (US$16,577). The media regulator also demanded that RFI air a retraction of both reports “at least five times,” once it is allowed to begin broadcasting again.

RFI has a large audience in Ivory Coast, which is bitterly divided between a government-held south and a rebel-held north. Government supporters accuse French and pro-opposition media of supporting the rebels. Local newspapers tend to be divided along partisan lines and their journalists often face serious threats from one side or the other.

RFI’s FM broadcasts have been cut off before during politically sensitive periods, according to CPJ research. In November 2004, unidentified assailants crippled FM transmissions of international radio stations, including RFI, just before the government launched raids on rebel positions in the north of the country.

RFI shut its bureau in Ivory Coast after its correspondent, Jean Hélène, was shot dead by a police officer in October 2003 while waiting to interview opposition activists who had just been released from detention.