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Presidential election campaign turns ugly as French journalist attacked

(RSF/IFEX) – Paris, 24 November 2010 - Reporters Without Borders urges the Ivorian media to provide more responsible and level-headed coverage of the campaign for the second round of Côte d'Ivoire's presidential election, which has turned ugly. The two candidates and their campaign staff are using aggressive and insulting language towards each other, and this could pose a serious danger to social peace and stability.

The press freedom organization understands that journalists often have no choice but to report these comments – clearly attributing the source – because they are campaign developments that can help voters to better understand the candidates.

But journalists must handle such comments responsibly and always refrain from amplifying them. In their editorials and commentaries, the media should also draw attention to the fact that the population is endangered by such verbal excesses from its politicians, performing the positive and salutary role that the "fourth estate" is supposed to play in a democracy.

Reporters Without Borders congratulates two dailies, Fraternité Matin and Soir Info, for their responsible and measured coverage of the inflammatory comments made by the candidates and their campaign teams, and urges other media such as the dailies L'Intelligent d'Abidjan and Nord-Sud, the TV station La Première and the radio station La Nationale to draw more attention to the dangers of these comments when they report them.

The organization deplores the hate messages liable to spawn violence that the newspapers Le Patriote, Notre Voie and Le Nouveau Réveil put on their front pages every day and believes that they cannot currently be regarded as professional news media that meet the standards of ethical journalistic conduct.

Reporters Without Borders urges the National Press Council (CNP) to exercise more vigilance in order to prevent the excesses that have fuelled past crises and hails the decision by the president of the National Broadcasting Council (CNCA) to intervene regularly on the leading state-owned TV and radio stations, La Première and La Nationale, to ensure respect for the requirement that the two candidates are treated in an equitable way during the second-round campaign.

The organization urges the CNCA to take urgent steps to ensure that the candidates and their supporters eschew inflammatory language in the political programmes and electoral spots broadcast on La Première and La Nationale.

Accusing President Laurent Gbagbo of "poisoning Ivorians" by allowing toxic waste dumping or accusing his rival, Alassane Ouattara of the Houphouëtiste Rally for Democracy and Peace (RHDP), of having "brought war to Côte d'Ivoire" should be regarded as inflammatory and unacceptable, in Reporters Without Borders' view.

French journalist Laurent Despas, the founder and editor of the Pan-African website , was meanwhile attacked and beaten, and had a finger broken, while covering violent clashes between members of the Côte d'Ivoire Student and School Federation (FESCI) and young opposition supporters outside the RHDP campaign headquarters in the Abidjan neighbourhood of Cocody on 19 November, the eve of the start of the second-round campaign.

"I was attacked by around 20 people shouting, 'We are going to carve you up, Whitey!' and 'We are going to kill you!'" the French regional daily Ouest-France quoted Despas as saying. His mobile phone, still camera and video camera were all taken. He managed to recover the video camera.

Reporters Without Borders is amazed that the police did not intervene and calls for a thorough investigation with the aim of punishing those responsible for the attack. The organization also deplores the fact that the Ivorian police spokesman did not mention the attack in a communiqué about the clashes.

The day after the incident, Coulibaly Seydou, the editor of the daily Le Jour Plus, was summoned to police headquarters because his newspaper had accused the police of helping the students.

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