8 September 1999


New Caledonian current affairs programme blacked out

Incident details


(PINA/IFEX) - On 4 September 1999, the daily newspaper "Les Nouvelles
Calédoniennes" reported that the French overseas radio and TV network Réseau
France-Outremer (RFO) continued to be a target in trade union protests in
the French Pacific territory of New Caledonia. It said that one of RFO's
current affairs programmes was forced off the air when it tried to interview
a prominent business community leader. The newspaper said that Fédération
des petites et moyennes entreprises (FPME) president Alain Descombels was
the scheduled guest on the programme "Palabres" (Talks). Descombels was to
express the New Caledonian business community's points of view on industrial
actions and their impact on the French territory's economy, the newspaper

**Updates IFEX alert of 26 August 1999**

Last month, roadblocks were erected in and around the capital, Noumea, by
the Union of Exploited Kanak Workers (USTKE), blocking the main wharf, an
industrial area and later pro-French leader Jacques Lafleur's Southern
Province government headquarters. On 2 September, minutes before the talk
show started, USTKE members within the RFO technical staff carried out a
surprise action by refusing to work, making the broadcast impossible, "Les
Nouvelles" reported.

USTKE said that it disapproved of Descombels being a guest on the programme.
"Les Nouvelles" quoted Descombels as saying: "These are gang methods; USTKE
is afraid of freedom of expression. Why? Because they're afraid of the
truth. Their methods are those of a dictatorial country."

On 6 September, union members demonstrated in front of the RFO buildings.
Meanwhile, Descombels demanded to meet RFO New Caledonia director Alain le
Garrec to obtain assurances that the programme be rescheduled with him as a
guest "for freedom of speech's sake. This is a very serious situation, this
means we are no longer in democracy. Freedom of expression doesn't exist any
more in New Caledonia."

USTKE meanwhile threatened a strike to "protest against discriminatory
sanctions against its members" after three USTKE members of the RFO staff
were suspended for a "serious professional mistake." They could face further
disciplinary action.

The New Caledonian congress held an extraordinary meeting and resolved that
the "French state cease to treat unions as being above the law and that
therefore it take all necessary steps to ensure law and public security are
respected." It also requested that the Paris-based French media council
order the talk show to be rescheduled.

Background Information

On 26 August, RFO New Caledonia Editor-In-Chief Francis Orny urged all
business, trade union and political leaders in the territory to "keep their
troops under controls" after an RFO cameraperson was injured during a
confrontation between unionists and members of the public. RFO-television
cameraperson Philippe Grenier was injured by a stone on his temple on 25
August as he was filming a tense confrontation between union supporters and
the general public at union-erected roadblocks on the outskirts of Noumea.

In a special editorial comment on RFO-radio, Orny reacted to the incident,
which came one week after another RFO-TV journalist, Isabelle Hennequin, was
close to being shot as she interviewed a union leader in Canala, north of
Noumea. The union leader, who was at the time giving an interview to
Hennequin, sustained a bullet wound in the upper thigh fired by a sniper at
roadblock on the village nickel mining site.

Orny said: "Our daily mission is to inform you (the public) ... We believe
that every attempt to prevent, now and in future, journalists to do their
job is a breach of this fundamental right, the right we have to tell the
truth, even if it sometimes annoys some. This is and always will remain our
sole aim."


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Fiji Islands
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