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Disputed President clamps down on media

Côte d'Ivoire's disputed President Laurent Gbagbo has asserted his control over the media in recent months
Côte d'Ivoire's disputed President Laurent Gbagbo has asserted his control over the media in recent months

UN/Paulo Filgueiras

Côte d'Ivoire's President Laurent Gbagbo has tightened control over the council that regulates the print media and ordered a United Nations-sponsored radio network off the air, report the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The clampdown could put media freedom in Côte d'Ivoire back by 20 years, says RSF.

On 9 February, the Gbagbo-controlled National Council on Audiovisual Communication (CNCA) issued a statement revoking the broadcasting licence of ONUCI FM, a station operated by the UN's peacekeeping mission in the country. According to CPJ, CNCA said the government was reclaiming the 13 frequencies it granted the news station in line with a previous statement by Gbagbo calling for the UN mission to immediately leave the country.

The United Nations has recognised Gbagbo's rival, Alassane Ouattara, as the president-elect since the disputed November 2010 runoff elections. ONUCI has repeatedly rejected the Gbagbo administration's accusations of bias, says CPJ.

Gbagbo issued a decree on 4 February that fired the head of the National Press Council (CNP), Côte d'Ivoire's official print media regulator, and dismissed its board. A new board stacked with Gbagbo supporters was appointed by a 7 February decree, say RSF and CPJ.

The ousted council chairman, Eugène Dié Kacou, told CPJ that he had been pressured by Gbagbo's administration to close down pro-opposition newspapers supporting Ouattara.

RSF says Kacou has been replaced by Débi Dally, who, as head of the Ivorian Press Agency (AIP), fired AIP journalists for covering an opposition march on state-owned television in December.

"We fear CNP will cease to perform its regulatory function and will henceforth be used to punish opposition journalists and media harshly, and to protect media that are loyal to Gbagbo," said RSF. "A manoeuvre of this kind is liable to set Côte d'Ivoire back 20 years in terms of respect for media freedom."

According to RSF, Gbagbo's communication minister, Ouattara Gnonzié, said on Radio France Internationale that "the end of tolerance was a self-defence measure" and that calls for sedition or insurrection would henceforth be "punished harshly."

RSF, CPJ and the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA) also voiced their concern about two journalists who have been held by military police and severely tortured since their arrest in Abidjan on 28 January, when they were about to interview Ouattara. Aboubacar Sanogo and Yayoro Charles Lopez Kangbé, journalists for Télévision Notre Patrie (TVNP) have been charged with "rebellion" and "threatening national security." TVNP supports the New Force rebels, who have controlled the north since 2002.

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