SATIRICAL WEEKLY GATHERS ACROSS-THE-BOARD SUPPORT IN WAKE OF ASSAULT

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NOUMÉA, New Caledonia (February 19, 2002 - Oceania Flash/Pacific Media Watch)---The satirical weekly "Le Chien Bleu" (Blue Heeler) has been gathering expressions of support from across New Caledonia's political spectrum after its publisher Etienne Dutailly was assaulted in his office by two men last week, the daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes reports on Tuesday.

On the international scene, press rights defense association Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF, Reporters Without Borders) general secretary Robert Ménard formally complained by way of an open letter sent to French National Assembly member and New Caledonia's Southern Province President Jacques Lafleur, and to French Senator representative Simon Louekhote (who is also New Caledonia's Congress President), expressing "indignation" at the assault perpetrated against Dutailly.

RSF also said it was "concerned" at the rise in "acts of intimidation" that targeted the media of New Caledonia.

"Journalist Etienne Dutailly was violently assaulted. This is the second time in a few months and the motives are most probably in relation to his position as publisher of a satirical newspaper.

"These are serious acts. The only other reports we received concerning assaults against satirical journalists took place in authoritarian regimes," RSF notes.

"We request that you condemn these actions and that you personally intervene in order to prevent any new development that would question the freedom to inform in New Caledonia," said Ménard in the letter.

"RSF also notes that since March last year, daily newspaper Les Nouvelles Calédoniennes general manager Bruno Franceschi and editor-in-chief Marc Spisser were "regular targets of acts of intimidation."

Les Nouvelles also reported on Monday that Lafleur reacted to the recent attack by stating he was "against all forms of violence."

"One must respect each individual's freedom . . . However, freedom does not give license to say anything on anyone. It is often necessary to practice self-control. To vilify without any foundation, is this the role of a true journalist?" he added.

Rightwing National Front president in New Caledonia, Guy George, said, "Although this journalist is not our friend, we are in a democracy and he is perfectly entitled to express himself freely. The courts are there to rule in case of defamation," George told a press conference, adding that the assault on Dutailly was "intolerable."

Trade union Force Ouvrière also expressed "sympathy and solidarity" for Dutailly saying, "Once again, press freedom and therefore the right of a whole population to be informed, has been attacked in this country. This freedom is one of the fundamental principles of democracy."

The opposition Alliance Party "strongly condemns these acts of intimidation and violence, as well as those who are behind them. A country that promotes freedom cannot conceive itself without a free press, even if it is sometimes impertinent or disturbing."

The New Caledonia's Human Rights League asked local authorities and metropolitan France to "intervene firmly."

Title -- 3532 NEW CALEDONIA: Satirical weekly gathers support in wake of assault Date -- 19 February 2002 Byline -- None Origin -- Pacific Media Watch Source -- Oceania Flash, pad@vanuatu.com.vu, 19/2/2 Copyright -- SPC Status -- Unabridged

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