State media pulled into Ivory Coast election drama

Government restricts print media, foreign broadcasters

State media has been caught in the crossfire in Ivory Coast, where tensions are rapidly escalating three weeks after the results of a controversial presidential election were announced.

Nearly 30 protesters were killed last week outside the headquarters of pubcaster Radio-Television Ivoirienne (RTI), after opposition supporters attempted to seize control of the station, which is aligned with incumbent Laurent Gbagbo.

The clash was the latest in a series of confrontations between loyalists of Gbagbo and supporters of opposition candidate Alassane Ouattara, who disputes the election results.

Gbagbo was sworn in this month after the country’s Constitutional Council nullified the results of the Nov. 28 poll, in which Ouattara was declared the victor.

In the weeks since, local and international media have been dragged into the fray.

On Dec. 2, the National Broadcasting Council (CNCA) cracked down on private webs France24, Africa24 and other foreign news outlets that had declared Ouattara the winner, suspending their transmission and jamming independent radio broadcasts to “preserve social peace,” which it said had been seriously shaken by the election drama.

The ban coincided with a crackdown on print media, with a number of opposition newspapers shut down in recent weeks.

In a statement last week, Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders criticized the government for “reducing the news coverage available to Ivorians by banning the opposition media after already suspending international broadcast media.”

Foreign webs are a vital source of independent news in a country where the state has a stranglehold on broadcast media.

Ouattara expressed his desire to launch his own TV station earlier this year. Last week his supporters began transmitting from a pirate radio station to sidestep the government crackdown.

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