Media in the Ivory Coast

Part 1: Country Background - The République de Côte d'Ivoire, also known as the Ivory Coast, is a country in West Africa bordering Liberia and Guinea to the west, Mali and Burkina Faso to the north, Ghana to the east, and the Gulf of Guinea to the

south. The location now known as the Ivory Coast was made a protectorate of France during the era of imperialism by a treaty in the 1840’s, and became a French colony in 1893. The country gained its independence in 1960, at which point it was led by Félix Houphouët-Boigny until 1993. During these years, the country was closely tied with its’ West African neighbors economically and politically, but also maintained trade with the Western world, furthering the nations economic development. However, since the end of Houphouët-Boigny’s rule the countries stability has been in serious decline, brought on by a number of coups vying for power. Following the takeover by two militia groups in 1999 and 2001 that served to replace the preexisting political powers, the country has been subject to a civil war since 2002.

Today, the government is identified as a republic with strong executive power embodied by the president, President Gbagbo. The nation’s current state of unrest has greatly hampered its economic development and social and political stability, and the violent state of the country poses a serious threat for those wishing to do business with the Ivory Coast.

Part 2: Country Profile

• Population:
According to UN census data in 2005, Côte d'Ivoire has a population of 17.1 million individuals. According to data in 2003, 43.6% of the population is female. The largest city in the country is Abidjan, which is the center for most of the countries economic activity and host to over twenty percent of the nation’s total population. However, the capital city is Yamoussoukro, which has less than 300,000 inhabitants.

• Language:
French is the official language of the Ivory Coast, although there are additionally over ten native languages spoken. Each native language represents the first language of less than fifteen percent of the population, expressing a wide range in culture. However, most individuals in the country speak more than one language.

• Religion:
63% of the country subscribes to a variety of localized African religions. Islam is the most widespread singular religion, hosting 25% of the population. Approximately 12% of the population reports being Christian.

• Economic Industries:
The economy of the Ivory Coast functions primarily on agricultural exports, representing nearly a third of the gross domestic product. The primary exports of the nation are cocoa beans, coffee, cotton, palm oil, and bananas. The economy is currently severely threatened by the violent state of the nation, which discourages foreign traders thereby limiting exportation. An additional 20% of the GDP is comprised by industrial services, including food and beverage manufacturing, wood products, oil refining, automotive assembly, and textile production. The labor force accounts for the remainder of the economy, with over 60% of the population providing physical labor to support the large agricultural industries.

• Income:
The gross national income was estimated at only $840 U.S.D. per capita according to World Bank data in 2006. Additionally, a significant portion of the population, approximately 37%, is below the poverty line, and 13% of the population suffers from unemployment. The GNP of the country was approximately $15.3 billion in 2005, just below Cameroon, Iraq, and Latvia, placing it in the top third of the world’s countries.

• Life Expectancy:
Men have a life expectancy of only 45 years, with women expected to live only marginally longer, with an average life expectancy of 47 years. This suggests a lack of medical resources and social services.

• Literacy:
The literacy rate is just over fifty percent, indicating a lack of educational opportunities.

Part 3: Media Investigation

• Publications:
The Ivory Coast has nine primary daily publications. Of the nine, one is state-owned, one is owned by the ruling party, one is run by the opposition, and the other six are privately funded. It is important to note that Notre Voie, the paper that is funded by the ruling party, has the largest daily circulation.

• Television:
Television service is provided by Radiodiffusion Television Ivoirenne, or RTI, which is state-run. There are no private TV stations, although rebel groups have gained the ability use state-owned TV facilities in certain areas for their own broadcasts.

• Radio:
Radio is the Ivory Coast’s most popular medium for media. There are a total of only seven radio stations that are broadcasted throughout the majority of the country. While the majority of stations are state-owned and run by RTI, there are also non-commercial radio stations that are run more locally by church groups as well as by UN peacekeepers.

• News Agency:
The Agence Ivoirenne de Presse, which is the equivalent of the United States’ Associate Press and is required to regulate the legitimacy of the news being produced, is state-owned, suggesting possible censorship and government biases.

• Internet/ Telephones:
Two Internet service providers: Africaonline and Aviso, with only 1.5% of the population estimated to be Internet users as of 2005.
Only 328,000 main line telephones in 2003, although at the time there were over one million cellular phone users. Today there are over four million cell phone users.

Part 4: Media Analysis

The Ivory Coast was ranked 98th on the most recent list put out by the international World Press Index. This free press index ranking is up 41 places from the previous year. This rise in ranking was particularly shocking to me, especially considering many of the testimonies of journalists I encountered during my investigation. For example, the Paris-based group Reporters Without Borders recently described the Ivory Coast as “one of Africa’s most dangerous countries for both local and foreign media,” which is largely based on the threat of violent actions from both rebel and state-run military forces. This testimony is evidenced by occurrences such as that in 2004, at which point the government used media under its’ control, specifically the RTI, to enable them in their struggle against rebel forces. The close ties between media and the government is further solidified by the fact that in 2006, members of the Young Patriots militia, who are loyal to President Gbagbo, invaded RTI headquarters in order to gain more control over the output of information in the media. Although these events occurred several years ago, as recently as 2007 the local UN peacekeepers expressed reports of a “growing number of inflammatory articles in the press,” providing propaganda for the groups in power. The UN peacekeepers also reported an increasing number of violent attacks on publications. This information does not seem to validate any indications of positive steps towards the production of unbiased media.

Based on my investigation of the nation known as the Ivory Coast, it is clear that there is a close link between government forces and the media. Not only are the radio, television, and newspapers state-run, but even peacekeepers have had to take a claim in the media in order to gain any semblance of an effective voice within the community. In 2005, the peacekeepers were able to launch their own radio station in Abidjan, although it did not have broad enough range to reach the entire nation. Even church groups have had to succumb to the media game being played by the government, opting to fund their own radio stations in order to provide some sense of hope for citizens in opposition of the forces in charge.
In dissecting the media in Côte d'Ivoire, I tried to keep an open-mind before passing judgment on the state of affairs. I was initially impressed by the website of the Ivory Coast’s largest circulating newspaper, Notre Voie. The website provided a variety of local articles in English, which I hoped would prove to present an unbiased form of media. However, once I discovered that Notre Voie was state-owned, I began to recognize a pattern in the nature of articles presented; none of the articles provided any opposition to President Gbagbo, nor did they even address the current state of disarray caused by the ongoing civil war. In fact, the themes of the news stories were very localized, and tried to put a positive slant on what was occurring throughout the country.

Overall, I think the shape of the media in the Ivory Coast is a product of a variety of influences. The ongoing state of political unrest as caused political parties to enlist propaganda as a strategy for increasing support. This sort of output from the media has served to further the division between groups, causing it to be deemed “hate media,” and has recently been present in a large number of African nations such as Rwanda who have struggled with similar issues with infrastructure. It seems to me that these unsteady political circumstances translate to corruption within the media, with no authorities working to ensure an unbiased presentation of the news because state-run media sources receive pressure from parties in power to present a specific point of view. Additionally, I believe that the widespread poverty throughout the country further inhibits the local freedom of press. My findings of limited internet access and low literacy rates suggest a lack of social mobility that may correlate with people’s inability to demand truth from local media forces. It is clear that the powers in charge have not accepted the responsibility to place value on a high standard of media, and therefore it is the role of the citizens to pursue such freedoms. Because local citizens have not been able to express these wishes, perhaps it is at this point that Western influences must intervene. Although Western influence has been hampered in the Ivory Coast by civil war, our global awareness of the situation in the country provides grounds for intervention.

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