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April 6, 2011 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Violence, terror and lack of information – initial evaluation of battle for Abidjan’s impact on media


Reporters Without Borders is offering an initial assessment of the impact on the media of the past six days of fighting for the control of Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire’s commercial capital. An all-out battle for news and information has been fought in parallel to the military clashes. After being used for propaganda purposes, the prized national radio and TV stations were finally the target of airstrikes. As normal reporting became too dangerous, rumours and hard-to-verify reports began to circulate. Journalists were the targets of threats and became more scared by the day. RTI – a key military objective The state-owned Radio-Télévision Ivoirienne (RTI) became a strategic objective for the Republican Forces (FRCI), the military force that supports Alassane Ouattara, since the start of its offensive on 31 March, when it was still under Laurent Gbagbo’s control. The fighting between the FRCI and the pro-Gbagbo Defence and Security Forces (FDS) damaged RTI’s premises and equipment, with the result that it could no longer broadcast from its headquarters in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Cocody. Its signal was cut on 31 March and continued to be cut for much of next day. RTI resumed broadcasting on the evening of 1 April from a mobile truck, transmitting propaganda messages urging the pro-Gbagbo “Young Patriots” to take to the streets to defend Gbagbo and the “republic’s institutions,” and accusing France of planning a “genocide” in Côte d'Ivoire. Like the presidential palace in the Abidjan district of Plateau and Gbagbo’s residence in Cocody, the national radio and television were on the list of 19 locations that were the target of airstrikes by the French helicopters of the French and UN peacekeeping forces on the evening of 4 April. Addressing the National Assembly in Paris yesterday, French defence minister Gérard Longuet said one of the objectives of the airstrikes was to destroy RTI’s antennae. Reporters Without Borders calls on the French government to provide an immediate explanation for the airstrikes on RTI. Under international law, not even a news media being used as a propaganda outlet by an enemy force constitutes a legitimate military target. It is protected just as any civilian building is. Reporters Without Borders is fully aware that RTI has been used as an influential and dangerous propaganda tool rather than a public service media. We have on several occasions, including in 2004, accused it of behaving like a “hate media.” The messages that it was putting out in the past four months, and again this past week, were very disturbing. Today, the RTI website was carrying a video showing the effects of violence against civilians in unbearably graphic detail, accompanied by a text message saying: “Alert genocide holocaust in Côte d'Ivoire – More than 1,200 civilians burned to death in Duékoué by pro-Ouattara forces.” The claim was unverifiable. Unable to report at the height of the fighting Most of the journalists in Abidjan were unable to venture outside this week because of the curfew imposed every day by the often blind violence of the fighting taking place on the streets. Many of them worked by telephone while holed up in their homes. The car of a journalist working for the French daily Le Monde came under Kalashnikov fire on the northern freeway on 31 March, the day that the FRCI entered Abidjan. A French TV crew’s vehicle was machine-gunned two days later. Other journalists stayed in their bureaux or found refuge at the French military camp at Port-Bouët. Around 20 foreign journalists were blocked at the Novotel Hotel in the Abidjan district of Plateau on 4 April, when the hotel was overrun by gunmen. The Abidjan newspapers have not been able to publish because of the chaos. The last time a newspaper was published was on 31 March, the first day of the offensive against the city. The daily Fraternité Matin was printed on 1 April, but could not be distributed. Since then, there has been nothing on the newsstands. Reporters have also been getting threats, compounding the safety problems for the media. Journalists targeted by both camps Reports of a “hit list” that included journalists were circulating by word of a mouth at the height of the fighting in Abidjan last weekend. Several reporters received anonymous death threats. Many Ivorian journalists working for partisan news media have gone into hiding, fearing they could be the targets of a witch-hunt. “Journalists are very scared,” Reporters Without Borders said. Photo : AFP