9 September 1999


Confrontation with unionists over New Caledonia TV programme continues

Incident details


(PINA/IFEX) - A confrontation over efforts by trade unionists to muzzle a
television current affairs programme in New Caledonia continues, the daily
newspaper "Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes" reported on 7 September 1999. It
quoted Réseau France-Outremer (RFO) station director Alain Le Garrec as
saying union members who blacked out the programme had been suspended and
the show would be rescheduled. But the newspaper also quoted a union leader
as saying there could be a strike if sanctions against the unionists
continue and there are efforts to broadcast the programme.

**Updates IFEX alerts of 8 September and 26 August 1999**

The programme, "Palabres", was to feature Fédération des petites et moyennes
entreprises (the Federation of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, FPME)
President Alain Descombels giving his views about a large number of
industrial actions and the subsequent volatile situation in the French
Pacific territory. But as he was about to go on air, the Union of Exploited
Kanak Workers (USTKE) technician union members within the station stopped
working, making the live broadcast impossible. RFO is the national radio and
TV service in France's overseas territories.

Le Garrec said disciplinary action would be taken against the three RFO
technical staff members who were responsible for the blackout. He was quoted
by "Les Nouvelles" as saying: "RFO's position is not a secret: we said this
was a serious mistake and we have already started a process of sanctions.
There's no way we're going to stop this now." The newspaper said Le Garrec
told Descombels: "We chose initially to invite you. We certainly are not
going to question this choice, so we'll do this programme again. My role is
to ensure freedom of expression prevails."

USTKE union official Louis Kotra Uregei was quoted as warning they could go
on a "limited and general strike" throughout New Caledonia "if the sanctions
are taken and if the programme is happening again with Descombels as a
guest. We have contacts with other RFO stations," he also warned.

Background Information

On 4 September, "Les Nouvelles" reported that Descombels was to express the
New Caledonian business community's view on industrial actions and their
impact on New Caledonia's economy. Last month, roadblocks were erected in
and around the capital, Noumea, by 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 TV
programme started, USTKE members within the RFO technical staff refused to
work, making the broadcast impossible, "Les Nouvelles" reported.

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", "Les Nouvelles" reported. The congress also requested that the
Paris-based French Media Council order the talk show to be rescheduled.

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. It came one week
after another RFO-TV journalist 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, sustained a bullet wound in the upper thigh, fired
by a sniper at a roadblock on a 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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