20 October 1999


Court to rule on broadcasting dispute

Incident details


(PINA/IFEX) - On 16 October 1999, Réseau France-Outremer (RFO) President
André-Michel Besse and New Caledonian Union Syndicale des Travailleurs
Kanaks Exploités (USTKE) union leader Louis Kotra Uregei agreed to suspend
disciplinary action against USTKE members within the broadcasting station,
pending a court ruling, "Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes" reported. The daily
newspaper said Besse and Uregei met in Paris after the New Caledonian TV and
radio station was forced off the air for six days earlier this month by
picketing organised by USTKE. The action was in protest against disciplinary
sanctions imposed on three union supporters who prevented a live current
affairs show from going to air.

**Updates IFEX alerts of 12 October, 8 October, 14 September, 9 September, 8
September and 26 August 1999**

A walkout by sound and camera technicians stopped a business leader from
being interviewed about the impact on the New Caledonia economy of USTKE-led
strikes. The programme was later broadcast after a ruling from a French
media council. RFO maintained there was an attempt to muzzle freedom of
expression, and suspended the staff involved for between two and four weeks
without pay.

The agreement reached in Paris makes reference to New Caledonia's "specific
political, social and cultural context. Parties will ensure freedom of
expression and information pluralism are guaranteed for the whole of New
Caledonian society", it states. It also mentions RFO's pledge to reaffirm
indigenous Kanak identity on its New Caledonia services and promote more
actively training of Kanaks.

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, "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 featured Fédération des petites et
moyennes entreprises (Federation of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses)
leader Claude Descombels, a strong critic of the union action. 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.


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