New York, February 5, 2008—Authorities in the Ivorian economic capital of Abidjan indefinitely suspended the FM broadcasts of France-based Radio France Internationale (RFI) on Friday. The reason given was the absence of a permanent correspondent in country, according to news reports and local sources.
In a telephone interview with CPJ, Frank Kouassi, the secretary-general of Ivory Coast’s National Broadcasting Council, accused the station of unethical coverage of the country, citing “several cases of unbalanced information and analysis often out of touch with reality.” He declined to provide specific examples, adding that the government could no longer tolerate such practices. RFI, he said, had failed to appoint a permanent correspondent in the country by a Thursday deadline set by the council in December 2007.
RFI News Director Geneviève Goetzinger acknowledged to CPJ that the station had failed to fulfill its pledge to appoint a permanent correspondent by the end of 2007, but called the ruling “disproportional” to the reason given. She said the delay was due to internal legal assessments of safety issues of concern since a policeman killed RFI correspondent Jean Hélène in October 2003. Calling the presence of a permanent correspondent in Abidjan to cover Ivorian affairs “necessary” to RFI’s editorial needs, Goetzinger said the station would continue with its internal consultations.
Local Ivorian journalists told CPJ a permanent RFI correspondent based in Abidjan would work under intense government scrutiny, particularly in the lead-up to presidential elections scheduled for June of this year. The government and its supporters have often accused French state-funded RFI of biased coverage during periods of heightened political tensions. In 2005, the government fined the station and banned its FM broadcasts for 10 months over disputed reports.
“It is not for governments to dictate to broadcasters when and where they should assign correspondents,” said Joel Simon, CPJ’s executive director. “We call on the Ivorian authorities to lift this ban on RFI’s FM broadcasts immediately.”
Political tensions remain high in the cocoa-rich country over the difficult implementation of a March 2007 peace deal slated to usher a democratic transition and reunite a rebel-held north and a government-controlled south, according to news reports.
Relations between Ivory Coast, a former French colony, and France remain tense, notably over the unsolved disappearance of Franco-Canadian journalist Guy-André Kieffer.
Another French journalist, freelance photojournalist Jean-Paul Ney, has been held in Abidjan since December 27 on charges of threatening state security since his arrest outside the studios of the national broadcaster, Radiodiffusion Télévision Ivoirienne, according to news reports. Ney was accused of involvement in a coup plot after video footage he allegedly shot of the purported preparations of a coup by exiled army sergeant Ibrahim Coulibaly surfaced on the Internet, according to news reports. Coulibaly, the mastermind of a failed 2002 coup, denied the accusations in an interview broadcast by RFI last month, according to local journalists.