New Caledonia: the safety of journalists must be guaranteed

After a week of violence that broke out in Nouméa following the controversial adoption of the extension of the National Assembly's electoral body, the situation is worrying for the journalists working there. Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is concerned by the succession and increase in intimidation, threats, obstructions and sometimes attacks against them, and calls on the authorities and all the forces involved to ensure their safety and guarantee the right to information at this time of crisis.

While covering the clashes in Nouméa on Friday 17 May, a crew from the public television channel Nouvelle-Calédonie La 1ère, consisting of a journalist and a cameraman, were intimidated by around twenty unidentified hooded men. They snatched the camera from the cameraman's hands and threatened him with a stone, before smashing the windows of the journalists' car and trying to seize it. The public broadcaster's crew managed to escape thanks to the support of a motorist. France Télévisions management said it had filed a complaint the same day. 

According to a dozen accounts gathered by RSF, working conditions for journalists deteriorated rapidly from Wednesday 15 May onwards. As the constitutional bill amending New Caledonia's electoral body was adopted by the National Assembly on the night of 14 to 15 May, a series of acts of violence broke out in the Greater Nouméa area, either by groups protesting the reform or by groups formed to confront them. The territory has been placed under a state of emergency and is subject to a curfew (applicable to the entire archipelago) from which journalists are exempt. 

RSF is alerting the authorities in particular to the situation of freelance journalists: while some newsrooms are organising to send support to their teams in New Caledonia, freelance reporters find themselves isolated, without any instructions or protective equipment. 

"The attacks on journalists covering the situation in New Caledonia are unacceptable. Everything must be done so that they can continue to work and thus ensure the right to information for all in conditions of maximum safety. RSF calls on the authorities to guarantee the safety and free movement of journalists throughout the territory. We also call on all New Caledonian civil society and political leaders to respect the integrity and the work of those who inform us on a daily basis and enable us to grasp the reality on the ground". 

Anne Bocandé,
editorial director of RSF

While on the first day of the clashes on Monday 13 May, according to the information gathered by RSF, reporters managed to get through the roadblocks and talk to all the forces involved - especially those who are well known locally - many of them are still often greeted with hostility, if not persona non grata, and are the victims of intimidation, threats or violence. "At the roadblocks, when we are identified as journalists, we receive death threats", a freelance journalist told RSF. "We are pelted with stones and violently removed from the roadblocks. The situation is likely to get worse", a journalist from a local media outlet warned RSF. 

As a result, most of the journalists contacted by RSF are forced to work only in the area around their homes. "In any case, we're running out of petrol. In the next few days, we're going to find it hard to work because of the logistics", said a freelance journalist contacted by RSF. 

Distrust of journalists

The ten or so journalists contacted by RSF - who requested anonymity against a backdrop of mistrust - have at the very least been the target of repeated insults since the start of the fighting. According to information gathered by RSF, these insults continue outside the roadblocks, on social networks. The majority of the forces involved, who are difficult for journalists to identify, share a mistrust of the media coupled with a categorical refusal to be recognisable in the images of reporters, photographers and cameramen. 

On 15 May, the President of the Republic declared an immediate state of emergency throughout New Caledonia. On the same day, the government announced a ban on the social network TikTok. To date, six people have been killed and several injured in the clashes. 


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