Côte d'Ivoire | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Côte d'Ivoire

Côte d'Ivoire

Freedom of the Press 2005

2005 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

69

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

31

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

19

Frequent legal and physical harassment by government and rebel factions render constitutional provisions for freedom of expression meaningless. In December, the parliament passed a new law that removed criminal penalties for press offenses such as defamation or publishing false information. Prior to this, the law had allowed authorities to initiate criminal libel proceedings against journalists. In April, Gaston Bony, radio journalist and editor of the weekly Le Venin, was convicted of defamation and sentenced to six months in jail. In January, a military court found police Master Sergeant Dago Sery Theodore guilty of the October 2003 murder of French journalist Christian Baldensperger, a Radio France Internationale (RFI) reporter who wrote under the name "Jean Helene." Theodore was fined and sentenced to 17 years' imprisonment. French-Canadian freelance journalist Guy-Andre Kieffer, one of the last investigative reporters still based in the country, disappeared on April 16. Kieffer was also a commodities consultant and had conducted investigations exposing corruption in the cocoa and coffee sector. The authorities did not open an investigation into the disappearance for more than a month, and then, after pressure from the French, arrested only one man, a member of President Laurent Gbagbo's family, and refused to question others who might be involved.

While the UN and French peacekeepers tried to enforce the 2003 peace agreement signed by the government, rebels, and the opposition, tension among the factions escalated throughout the year, and the media were major casualties of this ongoing conflict. During protests in March organized by the opposition parties, there were several reports of security forces harassing, beating, and detaining journalists reporting on the protests. The programs of all international radio services were cut off for several days without explanation. RFI was banned from broadcasting for one day in May after it criticized the government for violence during the March protests. In rebel-held territories, rebel forces also harassed journalists. In August, independent daily L'Inter journalist Amadou Dagnogo disappeared for two months. He was later rescued by French peacekeepers and reported that he had been abducted by rebels, who detained and tortured him for five days, and that he then went into hiding because of continued death threats.

On November 4, President Gbagbo launched air strikes on rebel territories, breaking the 2003 cease-fire. The same day, pro-government militias raided state-owned broadcasters and opposition newspapers. They ransacked and hijacked the public broadcaster, Radio Television Ivorienne (RTI), and Radio Cote d'Ivoire. They also attacked several opposition newspapers, including 24 Heures, Le Patriot, Le Nouveau Reveil, Le Jour, Le Front, and Le Liberal Nouveau. At RTI, the general director was replaced with an ally of President Gbagbo. The radio broadcasts of RFI, the BBC, and Africa No. 1 were sabotaged. Subsequently, a spate of hate broadcasts on state radio drove thousands of Ivoirians and foreigners, mainly French, to flee the country. The national newspaper distribution company stopped distributing eight opposition newspapers in government-held territory after the militias attacked vendors and those distributing the newspapers. On November 7, a local correspondent for Le Courrier, a privately owned daily that supports President Gbagbo, was fatally shot during clashes between the Ivoirian army, demonstrators, and members of the French peacekeeping force. The killing was blamed on French troops.

The government-owned media are used to promote government policies and criticize the opposition. The government controls two major radio stations, one of which is the only national station and the major source of news in the country. Private print and community radio stations do present diverse views and frequently criticize the government, but they have been increasingly harassed for these reports. Following the 2002 rebellion, the government has increasingly censored the media. In June, the minister of communications announced that state media would need to submit for approval from the ministry any reports dealing with information about attacks. In rebel-held territory, rebels broadcast their own programming. Four major private international radio stations are available in the country, which serves as a counterweight to the politicized nature of the domestic media scene. However, following the killing of Jean Helene and the abduction of Kieffer, many foreign journalists left the country. The France 2 channel transferred to Dakar, and RFI closed its Abidjan office.