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RSF begins monitoring media's coverage of presidential election campaign

(RSF/IFEX) - As Côte d'Ivoire's election campaign officially got under way on 15 October 2010, Reporters Without Borders began its monitoring of the state and privately-owned media's coverage of the campaign as part of a European Union project for the "Protection of media pluralism at election time."

Reporters Without Borders welcomes the lottery which the National Press Council (CNP) conducted in a transparent manner in Abidjan on 15 October to determine the order in which the presidential candidates will be given space in the public newspaper "Fraternité Matin". The lottery complied with the electoral law's principle of equal access for candidates to the state media.

The press freedom organisation regrets that a similar lottery has not been used by the National Broadcasting Council (CNCA) to determine the order in which the candidates will appear on a special programme called "Facing the voters," which the state television station RTI will broadcast every day at prime time from 16 October.

The programme will give each candidate 90 minutes to present their election platform to viewers. Reporters Without Borders questions the CNCA's grounds for deciding that the incumbent president, Laurent Gbagbo, should appear last (the most advantageous position) and thinks this decision casts doubt on the impartiality and neutrality of both the CNCA and RTI.

There was an incident on 14 October, on the eve of the start of the campaign, which Reporters Without Borders hopes will be an isolated one. Journalists from the Qatar-based satellite TV station Al Jazeera, who had arrived in Abidjan to cover the election, were followed from their hotel and were then arrested by members of the Directorate for Territorial Surveillance (DST), the police intelligence department.

They were taken to DST headquarters in the Abidjan district of Cocody, where they were questioned by Deputy Director Djé Bi, who demanded to see all their video-cassettes and to search their hotel room. The journalists, who were properly accredited, refused. They were finally released two hours later.

In an unrelated incident, around 50 armed men from the Waters and Forests department of the Côte d'Ivoire defence and security forces prevented a debate from taking place at the headquarters of the "L'Intelligent d'Abidjan" newspaper in which Touré Ahmed Bouah, the CEO of a real estate company, had been due to take part.

Mission

Reporters Without Borders will monitor the Ivorian media from 15 October until the end of the presidential election. The quantitative and qualitative monitoring will be carried out in Abidjan by a team of observers, who will evaluate the air-time that the state radio and TV stations allocate to the political parties and movements participating in the election. They will also evaluate the space allocated by the public daily "Fraternité Matin" and three privately-owned dailies, "Le Nouveau Réveil", "Le Patriote" and "Notre Voie". The aim is to ensure respect for the principle of fairness in the public media and balance in the privately-owned media.

Methodology

Reporters Without Borders will observe and measure the airtime that the candidates get in all the French-language programmes relating to the elections on the state-owned TV station RTI 1 and the state-owned radio station Radio Côte d'Ivoire (RCI). It will also measure and compare the column space that each candidate and their supporters and allies get in the four public and privately-owned daily newspapers that are being monitored. Reporters Without Borders will add a qualitative evaluation of the tone used by the journalists and media in their references to the candidates.

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