8 December 2010

Officials ban news broadcasts in wake of election chaos

Queuing to vote in this year's election in Côte d'Ivoire
Queuing to vote in this year's election in Côte d'Ivoire
Monica Mark/IRIN

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The authorities in Côte d'Ivoire have banned some international news broadcasts and blocked the movement of the media amid continuing chaos following the presidential election, report the Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Human Rights Watch and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Both the incumbent and an opposition leader have claimed victory.

In an official statement broadcast on the government-controlled TV channel RTI on 2 December, the National Broadcasting Council announced "the immediate suspension of the signals of all international radio and TV news stations carried by the Canal+ Horizon satellite service" in order to "preserve social peace, which has been seriously shaken."

The announcement came a few hours after France 24, Africa 24 and other stations broadcasted the results, in which opposition politician Alassane Ouattara was declared the winner with 54 percent of the vote. Ouattara's win was immediately declared invalid by the Constitutional Court, which said incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo had won with 51 percent of the vote.

According to news reports, Gbagbo defied international pressure from the U.S., France and the UN to concede defeat, wrapping himself in the Ivorian flag as he was sworn in for another term. Hours later, Ouattara announced that he too had taken his own oath.

"This abrupt decision limits Ivorians' access to news at a time when a great deal is happening in their country," RSF said. "We doubt that simply shutting down the foreign media is the appropriate response to the social unrest that Côte d'Ivoire is currently facing."

RSF, which has been monitoring the elections for months, had previously hailed the enormous efforts made by the Ivorian media and the media regulatory authorities to provide balanced and professional coverage of the presidential campaign. Thus, RSF says it "regrets all the more that the tension surrounding the results has resulted in a reversion to former repressive responses as regards [to] free speech and access to information.".

Earlier this year, Ivorian authorities suspended the satellite broadcasts of France 24 after it reported on the violent suppression of opposition demonstrations by security forces, reports CPJ.

Côte d'Ivoire's long-awaited presidential election was meant to restore stability in what was once one of the most affluent countries in Africa. Instead, violence has ensued: on 4 December, Ouattara supporters took to the streets, burning tires and a table in one neighbourhood.

"The risk of violence between supporters of the two parties, as well as repression by Ivorian security forces against real or perceived supporters of Ouattara, is very high," said Human Rights Watch.

According to RSF, two journalists with the opposition daily "Le Mandat" were beaten on 2 December in the headquarters of the Republican Guard before being released.

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