An Ivorian pro-opposition journalist: “We have to work in secrecy”
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Very early on Sunday morning, several hours after an attack on the headquarters of the former ruling party, the offices of a newspaper aligned with former president Laurent Gbagbo were vandalized. Pro-Gbagbo journalists had feared such an attack since the post-election crisis, to such an extent that they had completely changed the way they work.
Very early on Sunday morning, several hours after an attack on the headquarters of the former ruling party, the offices of a newspaper aligned with former president Laurent Gbagbo were vandalised. Since the post-election crisis, pro-Gbagbo journalists had feared this kind of attack, to such an extent that they had completely changed the way they work.
On Sunday, unknown individuals armed with crowbars and machetes broke into the headquarters of the Le Temps newspaper. The perpetrators set fire to a room on the first floor and, according to the newspaper’s publications director Yacouba Gbané, stole several computers.
It had been more than two weeks since Le Temps had been barred from publication. The National Press Council decided in early August to halt the newspaper’s publication for 20 editions after it had published an article deemed “insulting” to President Alassane Ouattara. However, Gbané told RFI radio that this weekend’s attack will not keep the newspaper from publishing on Tuesday, when the ban expires.
The headquarters of Cyclone press, which includes Le Temps newspapers' offices, in Abidjan. Video by our Observer Lookman, filmed on August 20.
“We regularly receive death threats by email or phone”
Maurice Kouassi is Le Temps’ managing editor.
After our offices were vandalised following the fall of Laurent Gbagbo in April 2011, we decided to go underground. Our editorial staff consisted of about 20 journalists before the crisis; now there are only ten of us, and we work in undisclosed locations to avoid being the target of attacks like the one on Saturday. Only a few people still come to our office. As a result, it is far more difficult to put together our newspaper than it was before, as we must coordinate our work from afar. [Editor’s note: A lack of funding also accounts for the difficulties in rebuilding the “blue press”, as pro-Gbagbo newspapers are called, after the post-election crisis]. Despite these precautions, we regularly receive death threats by email or by phone.
Working conditions are even more difficult for the reporters who travel to the former “Center North and West zones” [Editor’s note: this term was coined in 2002 to describe the areas controlled by the former “New Forces,” the rebels who supported current president Alassane Ouattara]. When they introduce themselves as Le Temps reporters, they are sure to encounter significant difficulties to get the information they are seeking.
“As long as journalists act like politicians, the print media cannot play a positive role in the national reconciliation process”
Suy Kahofi, who lives in Abidjan, writes for several African newspapers. He also writes the blog La Côte d’Ivoire au jour le jour (which translates to "Ivory Coast, day to day").
I know journalists from an opposition newspaper who work from home because they are pressured and fear being attacked. At the end of the day, they send their article to an editor who works in a small studio that is situated away from the newspaper headquarters, where some of the journalists get together to put together the layout. And when it comes to selling advertisements in the newspaper, meetings are always set up in a neutral location.
I will nonetheless note that the situation for journalists has improved since the end of the crisis. The “black list” period, in which those who were too much in favor of one party or another were targeted, is now behind us. Journalists from both sides are present during government press conferences, and when they take the floor, there is far less tension than a year ago.
However, the front pages of newspapers remain quite virulent, whether they are associated with the president or the opposition. We saw this recently after the army and the ruling party’s headquarters were attacked. With each new attack, the newspapers accuse and insult each other, even though the actual perpetrators remain unknown. This of course impacts public opinion: there are readers who believe everything printed by the newspaper they are used to buying. So long as journalists behave like politicians by taking sides, the print media cannot play a positive role in the national reconciliation process. Sundays, the only day when no newspapers come out, will continue to be the only peaceful day in Ivory Coast.