19 Jul 2013

Unease at New Caledonia's only newspaper

5:21 pm on 19 July 2013

There is growing unease at New Caledonia's only daily newspaper, which was recently sold to a local businessman.

Seven journalists have resigned, including the editor-in-chief.

They denounce a lack of editorial policy and more political pressures.

Daphne Gastaldi reports:

A few days ago, the journalists' organisations SDJ passed a motion of distrust against the new managing director of Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes. Philippe Demazel is accused of having no editorial policy and of accepting the pressure from the president, Harold Martin. Recently he asked his team to write a favourable article about the president after a series of articles about his judicial troubles. Christophe Chohin is the co-editor in chief. He has also decided to resign soon.

"CHRISTOPHE CHOHIN: There was a fight between the journalists and the director, because the director wanted us to retract and we did not want to retract because the information was good. That's one of the reasons for the motion of defiance. We want to keep our freedom. New Caledonia will live a new era from 2014 with the self-determination vote, so it's quite an important time for New Caledonia and it's quite important to have a free press ."

The current press situation is very disturbing according to Elie Poigoune, the president of the Human Rights League in New Caledonia. He is preparing a petition to get a formal status for journalists.

ELIE POIGOUNE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): We're living an important time and the citizens need to have the most objective news possible. When politicians or powerful financial groups try to exert pressure on journalists, it's dangerous for our democracy. That's why it's important to create a status for journalists as in democratic countries like New Zealand, Australia and even France.

Despite this media crisis and a strike three months ago, the political class in New Caledonia hardly reacted, with the exception of a young independent party called Convergence Country. The leader Stephane Henocque is calling for more press freedom.

STEPHANE HENOCQUE (THROUGH TRANSLATOR): The issue in New Caledonia is that the politicians try to lay hands on the media, radio, TV, the newspaper and magazines, to use them as propaganda tool. The citizens must be aware of who the owners of the media are and not take everything for granted. Concerning the journalists, we propose a status to guarantee their independance and to be protected from pressure.

This has already been proposed by the opposition Caledonia Together party. The party's bill is to be tabled in the Congress within weeks to create a status for journalists. It remains to be seen if it will stop the bleeding of staff at Les Nouvelles Caledoniennes.