12 October 1999


National TV and radio services back on the air

Incident details


(PINA/IFEX) - New Caledonia's Réseau France-Outremer (RFO) television and
radio broadcasts resumed on the night of 9 October 1999 after six days of
interruption due to union-led pickets, the newspaper "Les Nouvelles
Calédoniennes" reported on 11 October. Since Monday 4 October, Union
Syndicale des Travailleurs Kanaks Exploités (USTKE) members prevented anyone
from entering the station's premises, and effectively closed RFO's
television (two channels) and radio stations. RFO operates the national
television and radio services of the French Pacific territory and is the
main source of news for most people in these islands.

**Updates IFEX alerts of 8 October, 14 September, 9 September, 8 September
and 26 August 1999**

USTKE was protesting against disciplinary action by RFO against three staff
members who prevented a current affairs programme featuring the leader of a
business association critical of recent strikes in New Caledonia. The three
RFO staffers, who are supporters of USTKE, faced two to four week
suspensions without pay and possible further sanctions. RFO-New Caledonia
regional director Alain le Garrec refused to bow to union pressure, saying
important issues of freedom of expression were at stake (see IFEX alerts).

Le Garrec said the three would have faced much more serious measures,
including probable dismissal, had this happened in metropolitan France.
USTKE president Louis Kotra Uregei agreed to suspend the blockade and on 11
October fly to Paris to meet RFO's president, André-Michel Besse. A senior
RFO staff member told the news service PINA Nius Online that a significant
factor in the union ending its blockade was the France-Iceland soccer match.
This was aired live on New Caledonia television early on 10 October, just
hours after staff were able to resume work.

Background Information

French Conseil Supérieur de l'Audiovisual (Audiovisual Council) President
Hervé Bourges said that the council ruled that the television programme
should be shown despite efforts by unionists to stop it, the newspaper "Les
Nouvelles Calédoniennes" reported on 11 September. It quoted Bourges as
saying that the current affairs programme should go on air in its planned
format "within the best convenient time frame." The show is to host
Fédération des petites et moyennes entreprises (Federation of Small and
Medium-Sized Businesses) leader Claude Descombels. But minutes before going
live on air, the programme was shut down by USTKE supporters among the RFO
cameramen and sound engineers.

RFO is the network of national TV and radio stations in French overseas
territories. 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 control" after an RFO cameraperson was injured
during a confrontation between unionists and members of the public. The
incident 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 giving an interview at the time, sustained a bullet wound in
the upper thigh, fired by a sniper at a roadblock on a nickel-mining site.


Pacific Islands News Association
Level 2, 46 Gordon Street, Damodar Centre
Private Mail Bag, Suva
Fiji Islands
pina (@) connect.com.fj
Phone: +679 3303623
Fax: +679 3317055
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