NOUMEA, New Caledonia (October 22, 1999 - PINA Nius Online)---New Caledonia television viewers were deprived of news again Thursday night, after other union groups went on strike to protest an agreement reached earlier between the USTKE union and RFO's Paris management, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports.

Industrial action by SOENC (Syndicat des Ouvriers et Employés de Nouvelle-Calédonie/Union of Workers and Employees of New Caledonia), with support from other smaller unions, including CGC, FO and SLUA, and non-union RFO staff members, resulted in the cancellation of the evening TV news Thursday.

Some "thirty to forty" journalists and technicians are supporting what they call a "roving strike."

The action took place to protest an agreement reached last week between RFO and USTKE (Union Syndicale des Travailleurs Kanaks et Exploités), which deferred disciplinary action against three USTKE supporters within RFO (including journalists).

The three actively took part in a USTKE-called strike September 2, making the broadcast of a live current affairs talk show impossible.

USTKE later said they disapproved of the guest, small and medium businesses union leader Alain Descombels, who was to have spoken against a series of strikes affecting the French territory's economy.

USTKE responded to the sanctions against their union members by staging another strike that imposed a blackout on New Caledonia radio and television for six days earlier this month.

Last week, RFO Chairman André-Michel Besse and USTKE leader Louis Kotra Ureigei met in Paris and agreed that the sanctions (ranging from two to four week job suspensions without pay) be suspended pending a court ruling on the matter.

The announcement, which made specific references to the promotion of Kanak workers within RFO, triggered indignation from other unions, parliamentarians and New Caledonian President Jean Lèques himself.

The new strikers, meantime, have announced that they will not impose a total radio-TV blackout, as USTKE did.

"We support the right to work and we're not going to prevent non-strikers from working. And we don't intend to deprive New Caledonians of their television," SOENC RFO spokesman José Solia said.

"We just want to protest against breaches of freedom of expression that have occurred for the past few weeks," SOENC said in a full-page paid advertisement published on Friday in Les Nouvelles.

The French Media Council ruled in September, on the grounds of "serious breaches of freedom of expression," that the cancelled September 2 program be rescheduled. It later was telecast without incident.

This bulletin was produced by the Pacific Islands News Association (PINA). Editor: Patrick Antoine Decloitre E-mail: 

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