Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
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The constitution provides for freedom of the press, but since the 2002 rebellion that divided the country into government and rebel-held portions, the government has reduced media freedoms in the name of patriotism and national unity. Parliament scrapped criminal libel and other punitive laws for press offenses in December 2004. However, these legal improvements were disregarded in June 2006 when the editor and publications director at the opposition daily Le Font were sentenced to three months in prison and large fines on charges of defamation. The journalists had not yet served their time in prison by year’s end, hoping to overturn the ruling in the appeals court.
Journalists remain vulnerable to physical and other abuse by police and extralegal militias, and many journalists, particularly those involved in media outlets expressing dissenting views, were subject to direct attacks and intimidation throughout the year. However, the primary threat to the media in 2006 came from the blatant attempts made by President Laurent Gbagbo and pro-government militias to control media content, particularly that of the state-run media. In January, following the UN’s announcement that the mandate of the National Assembly did not extend beyond 2005, hundreds of members of the militant pro-government group the Young Patriots and other government supporters rallied in front of the offices of the state-run media outlet, Radiotelevision Ivoirienne (RTI), eventually using force to gain access to the station and broadcast messages inciting violence and instructing protesters to target specific buildings, including the UN headquarters and the French embassy. This incident has intensified international concern about xenophobia and hate language in the Ivorian media. During the occupation of the outlet, which was aided by state security personnel and a number of senior broadcast officials, demonstrators threatened to kill or rape journalists who were unwilling to cooperate. Many other journalists were harassed, attacked, and threatened amid the wider violence that month, and a number of media outlets were intimidated into temporarily closing their offices.
As a further direct assault on the independence of the state media in general, and RTI in particular, in November President Gbagbo dissolved the entire board of directors and fired the director general of RTI, replacing him with Pierre Brou Amessan, who had served as the government’s news anchor during the Young Patriots takeover in January. This move came during a period of heightened tension between Gbagbo and his prime minister after RTI aired one of the prime minister’s press releases, which condemned Gbagbo’s actions following the dumping of toxic waste in the capital, Abidjan, and called for state institutions to refuse to enforce decrees signed by the president. In the same move, the director of the state-owned daily Fraternite Matin was also replaced with someone more favorable to the administration.
Little changed in 2006 for media practitioners in the northern rebel-held territory. Only one incident of media harassment was reported in which an independent journalist was allegedly beaten by security forces while leaving an interview with a rebel spokesman. The rebels operate at least one television and two radio stations in their zone and continue to allow the circulation of pro-government newspapers and the broadcasting of government television and radio programs.
The government controls two major radio stations, one of which is the only national station and a key source of news in the country. Private print and community radio stations do present diverse views and frequently scrutinize the government, but they are regularly harassed for these reports. Since 2002, pro-government media have led an ultranationalistic campaign against France, which they accuse of backing the rebellion; this campaign, supported by President Gbagbo, has increasingly included calls for the removal of the UN mission and its peacekeeping troops stationed in Cote d’Ivoire. Following a 10-month ban on its FM radio transmissions, in May 2006 French government–owned Radio France Internationale (RFI) was allowed to resume its broadcasting in return for a US$18,000 fine and the reappointment of a permanent RFI correspondent in Abidjan. Internet access, though severely constrained by poverty and infrastructure limitations (only 1 percent of the population was able to access the internet in 2006), is unrestricted by the government.