The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has called on the Ivorian authorities to immediately lift the indefinite suspension of the FM broadcasts of the France-based Radio France International (RFI), according to a statement from the New York-based group.
Referring to the reasons for the suspension, CPJ’s Executive Director, Joel Simon, said in the statement, made available to Panapress Wednesday; “It is not for governments to dictate to broadcasters when and where they should assign correspondents.”
Ivorian authorities had said the suspension was due to the absence of a permanent RFI correspondent in the country. CPJ quoted Frank Kouassi, the Secretary-General of Cote d’Ivoire’s National Broadcasting Council, as accusing the station of unethical coverage of the country, citing “several cases of unbalanced information and analysis often out of touch with reality.” According to the CPJ statement, the official declined to provide specific examples, adding that the government could no longer tolerate such practices. He also said that RFI 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.
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.
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. Relations between Cote d’Ivoire, 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 27 December 2007 on charges of threatening state security since his arrest outside the studios of the national broadcaster, Radiodiffusion Télévision Ivoirienne. 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.