...state radio and TV biased in favour of President Gbagbo, privately-owned dailies all overly partisan
After the first six days of the official campaign period of Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential election, Reporters Without Borders hails the coverage being provided by the public-service daily Fraternité Matin, which has dedicated equal column space to all 14 candidates and has used an almost systematically neutral tone to refer to each of them, in accordance with the provisions of the National Press Council (CNP).
The press freedom organisation urges Le Nouveau Réveil, Notre Voie and Le Patriote, three privately-owned dailies whose campaign coverage has so far been extremely partisan, to follow Fraternité Matin’s example and offer their readers more balanced coverage, and thereby contribute in a positive way to plurality in the democratic and electoral debate.
Contrary to the claim by Franck Anderson Kouassi, the president of the National Broadcasting Council (CNCA), on 20 October that “everyone is treated the same, in an egalitarian manner,” Reporters Without Borders is very concerned to see that the state radio broadcaster RCI and La Première, the main channel of the state TV broadcaster RTI, are not treating the 14 candidates fairly.
The CNCA’s provisions about broadcasting dedicated spots for each candidate (“free spaces”) are being respected, but the way the other programmes (news programmes, campaign reports and magazine programmes) are referring to the campaign is giving incumbent President Laurent Gbagbo a very significant advantage. He is getting between two and five times more air-time on La Première and RCI than the other candidates. Reporters Without Borders regards La Première’s coverage of his activities as president as excessive.
Like the communiqués paid for by Gbagbo support groups that are being broadcast during RCI’s commercial breaks, it is a disguised form of campaigning that tilts the democratic playing field and casts doubt on the neutrality of the state broadcasters. Reporters Without Borders urges La Première and RCI to move at once to respect the CNCA’s rules, under which the 14 candidates should get exactly the same air-time during the official two-week campaign period.
The public broadcasting bias is all the more dangerous for the plurality of democratic and electoral debate in that the non-commercial privately-owned radio stations are not allowed to cover the candidates’ activities themselves and can only retransmit the coverage provide by La Première and RCI, without modifying the content.
On 16 October, the CNCA announced that it was suspending Abidjan 1, a small community radio station, for two weeks (the entire campaign period), for broadcasting its own programmes about the candidates and their activities.
Reporters Without Borders questions the impartiality of the CNCA because, until now, it has only intervened to control coverage of Alassane Ouattara and Henri Konan, the two candidates who are regarded as President Gbagbo’s main rivals.
The CNCA accused a La Première journalist of referring to Ouattara in a very favourable way in a report broadcast on 16 October. The same day, it asked Bédié to change a sentence in a campaign spot on the grounds that it was too aggressive toward President Gbagbo.
Reporters Without Borders understands these measures, intended to guarantee public broadcasting neutrality, but is amazed that RCI was not sanctioned for broadcasting paid communiqués on 15 October that gave listeners the places and times of Gbagbo’s electoral rallies. Although it has done this repeatedly, it is a flagrant violation of the CNCA’s own ban on references to the election in commercial breaks.
As Reporters Without Borders already reported, the CNCA did not conduct a lottery to determine the order in which the candidates will appear on “Facing the voters,” a special programme that is being broadcast simultaneously on La Première and RCI at a prime time every day during the campaign. The programme is allowing each candidate 90 minutes to present their election platform.
Reporters Without Borders questions the CNCA’s grounds for deciding that Gbagbo will appear last (the most advantageous position). As a result of this decision, Bédié is currently reconsidering his participation in the programme.
La Première – Radio-Télévision Ivoirienne (public TV broadcaster)
Under the CNCA’s rules, La Première’s election campaign programmes consist of a “Campaign News Programme,” in which the station’s journalists do a two-minute report on each candidate every two days (with the candidate himself speaking for no more than 45 seconds), campaign spots made by the candidates themselves (a maximum of 5 minutes every two days) and the “Facing the voters” programme.
In general, these rules are being respected. All of the candidates have been getting more or less similar treatment both quantitatively (air-time) and qualitatively (the tone in which journalists refer to them). Gbagbo is getting twice as much air-time as the other candidates overall because of the long reports about his activities as president in the regular news programmes, which are not allowed to refer to the candidates.
For example, a 3-minute news report about President Gbagbo sending his transport minister to the town of San Pedro to give 21 million CFA francs to a support fund for the families of sailors who disappeared at sea in 2009 was broadcast twice on 20 October, once during the midday news programme and once during the evening news programme.
Note: This and all the other charts about La Première and RCI ignore air-time on “Facing the voters,” in which five of the 14 candidates have so far participated. Air-time on this programme (in which a different candidate gets 90 minutes each day to present their election platform) will be incorporated at the end of the campaign when all the candidates have taken part.
RCI – Radio Côte d’Ivoire (public radio broadcaster)
The election campaign coverage rules for RCI are the same as La Première. It has a “Campaign News Programme” with a 90-second report on each candidate every two days, campaign spots and the “Facing the voters” programme. But its coverage is even more biased in favour of President Gbagbo than La Première’s.
RCI is giving Gbagbo much more air than the other candidates in the campaign news programmes, it broadcasts communiqués paid for his support groups, and its music programmes include songs that support him.
Fraternité Matin (public-service daily)
The public-service daily Fraternité Matin is covering the 14 candidates in an equitable manner. It gives each of them a similar amount of column space and uses an almost systematically neutral tone in its reporting about their campaigns and electoral programmes.
The campaign coverage in the privately-owned dailies Le Patriote, Notre Voie and Le Nouveau Réveil is extremely partisan. Each paper dedicates considerable space to the candidate it supports and provides negative coverage (sometimes using very aggressive language) of the activities and programme of the candidate regarded as his main rival.
So, Le Patriote (Alassane Ouattara) and Le Nouveau Réveil (Henri Konan Bédié) paint a very negative portrait of President Gbagbo, while Notre Voie, one of the leading pro-Gbagbo dailies, uses a similarly negative tone to refer to these two challengers.
Mission Reporters Without Borders began monitoring the Ivorian media on 15 October and will continue until the end of the presidential election. Its quantitative and qualitative monitoring is being carried out in Abidjan by a team of observers, who are evaluating the air-time that the state radio and TV stations allocate to the political parties and movements participating in the election. They are also evaluating the space allocated by the public-service daily Fraternité Matin and three privately-owned dailies, Le Nouveau Réveil, Le Patriote and Notre Voie. The aim is to ensure respect for the principle of fairness in the state media and balance in the privately-owned media.
Methodology Reporters Without Borders is observing and measuring the air-time that the candidates get in all the French-language programmes relating to the elections on the state-owned TV station La Première and the state-owned radio station Radio Côte d’Ivoire (RCI). It is measuring and comparing the column space that each candidate and their supporters and allies get in the four public and privately-owned daily newspapers that are being monitored. It is also carrying out a qualitative evaluation of the tone used by the journalists and media in their references to the candidates.