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NOUMEA, New Caledonia (October 11, 1999 - PINA Nius Online)---New Caledonia's Réseau France Outremer (RFO)'s television and radio stations resumed broadcasting Saturday night after being interrupted for six days by union-led picketing, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

Since Monday, October 4, Union Syndicale des Travailleurs Kanaks Exploités (USTKE) had prevented anyone from entering the stations’ premises and effectively closed down all radio and television transmissions.

USTKE was protesting against disciplinary action taken by RFO against three staff members (journalists and technicians) who had walked off the job on September 2. Their actions took place minutes before a live weekly current affairs program featuring an interview with small and medium businesses union leader Alain Descombels was to have been telecast.

The three RFO staff members, who also support USTKE, faced two to four weeks’ suspension without pay and possible further sanctions over their actions.

The French Media Council ruled that the program be rescheduled. It was presented on September 23.

RFO New Caledonia regional director Alain le Garrec last week maintained a strong position and refused to bow to union pressure to cancel the employee sanctions.

He reconfirmed them, pointing out that considering the gravity of the employees’ actions, the mild sanctions could be seen as "aiming to appease."

He added that the three would have faced much more serious disciplinary actions, probably being terminated, had their walking off the job occurred in metropolitan France.

After talks held late last week, USTKE President Louis Kotra Uregei agreed to suspend the blockade and on Monday flew to Paris to meet RFO's President, André-Michel Besse.

They are to meet on Wednesday.

Staff members, including journalists, were allowed to enter the station at around 10:30 p.m. on Saturday.

The USTKE has threatened that if nothing positive comes out of the Paris meeting, the blockade would resume on Thursday.

Within RFO, an estimated 10 percent of the staff supported the strike action while the remaining 90 percent continued working outside the station, preparing future programming.

Another significant factor that contributed to the resumption of transmissions was the France-Iceland soccer match, which was aired live Sunday morning on television.

"If USTKE had been seen to deprive viewers here of this, they would have lost considerable support," a RFO senior staff member said.

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*See Pacific Media Watch item 2368 at .

NOUMEA, New Caledonia (October 10, 1999 – Kanaky Online/Pacific Media Watch/Pasifik Nius/Niuswire)---A French minister has condemned the threat to freedom of information in New Caledonia as an ongoing strike has blacked out programs on the state-run radio and television network RFO for almost a week.

The strikers are calling for the reinstatement of three workers who were suspended by RFO when they blacked out a small business spokesman known for his extreme anti-union views.

The strike is supported by the pro-independence Union of Kanak and Exploited Workers (USTKE - Union Syndicale des Travailleurs Kanak et Exploités).

The Secretary of State for Overseas Territories, Jean-Jack Queyranne, said in a statement on October 7: "It is necessary to guarantee the freedom of information which is threatened in New Caledonia, where a trade union has gagged the RFO station since Monday."

According to the statement, the minister said: "Freedom of information is guaranteed under the constitution and we cannot give in to threats against the activities of the public service.

"Nobody can blockade the RFO under the pretext that an invited guest for a television show only represents a fraction of opinion, because we have pluralism of views."

RFO's station director Alain Le Garrec described the protest as "an indefensible cause."

Refusing to agree to the union demands to negotiate over the lifting the sanctions against the three staff, he added: "Giving in to this pressure would make the station unmanageable."

The controversy follows a series of strikes during the past two months.

The "Palabres" talk show on the state-run RFO (Réseau France-Outremer) TV station in Noumea was blacked out on September 2, 1999 minutes before a scheduled live interview with the President of the Federation of Small and Medium-Sized Businesses (Fédération des petites et moyennes enterprises), Alain Descombels.

Descombels, who recently lost a labor tribunal ruling after a strike and was reportedly forced to pay compensation to women his company had fired, has been a bitter critic of trade unions in New Caledonia, alleging that they prevent entrepreneurs investing in the territory.

Although he has criticized both the mainly "caldoche" (settler) union OSOENC and the Kanak-led multiracial union USTKE, his strongest condemnation has been leveled at the latter.

Title -- 2396 NEW CALEDONIA: French minister condemns union gag on RFO Date -- 10 October 1999 Byline – None Origin -- Pacific Media Watch Source -- Kanaky Online, 10/10/99 Status -- Unabridged

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