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France

How will the people of Kidal be heard now?

© RFI

Text by François PICARD

Latest update : 2013-11-04

FRANCE 24 presenter François Picard, a former colleague of Claude Verlon and Ghislaine Dupont at Radio France Internationale, pays tribute to the two murdered journalists.

The last time I sat down with Claude Verlon was over lunch in the FRANCE 24 and RFI cafeteria. He was a veteran of the sound reporters’ pool, radio journalism’s answer to the special forces. He could produce an outdoor concert in Africa or build a studio from scratch in a ski resort apartment at the Olympics.  He was obsessed with sound. 

On Saturday, Claude and his RFI colleague, the highly respected Africa service journalist Ghislaine Dupont, were abducted and murdered by gunmen in the northern Malian city of Kidal.

In Claude and Ghislaine, the Paris press corps has lost two talented and dedicated professionals, news gatherers with a passion for Africa.

The coming days and weeks will hopefully shed some light on what happened in Kidal. Who were the masked gunmen who abducted them after an interview with a local Tuareg official and why were they shot so shortly afterwards?

Kidal is remote - more than 1500 kilometres from the capital Bamako -  but, with defeated Islamists nearby and a volatile mix of Tuareg separatists and French forces still negotiating the return of Malian government forces after last year’s fighting, Kidal is still significant.

That’s why Ghislaine and Claude were there, to record interviews for an RFI special feature on reconciliation and reconstruction in Mali after last year’s occupation of the north, first by separatists, then by Islamists.

How will the people of Kidal be heard now?

RFI’s coverage of Africa provides a real public service and in many francophone African capitals, the station continues to boast higher ratings than local radios.

Covering the continent from Paris, as Ghislaine and Claude did, means long trips or crackly phone interviews. The big reward is providing vital news to places like Kidal that suffer - sometimes desperately - from a shortage of reliable information.

RFI has paid a particularly heavy price for its reporting. Besides the on-air personalities who’ve succumbed to malaria, my former boss at the assignment desk Joanne Sutton was killed in Afghanistan in 2001. Ten years ago, one of my successors in Abidjan, Jean Hélène, was murdered by an Ivorian police officer amid a spike in anti-French rage by Gbagbo supporters during Ivory Coast’s civil war.

In hindsight, the murder of Jean Hélène, an experienced senior correspondent who’d covered Somalia, the fall of Mengistu in Ethiopia and the Rwandan genocide, looks like a turning point.

When I covered civil wars in Liberia and Sierra Leone in the mid 1990s, bullets could fly and reporters were killed but no side would deliberately target Western journalists. It was an unwritten rule, respected even by drug-fuelled child soldiers.

Why were Ghislaine and Claude fair game? It’s important to find out so that RFI can continue its long tradition of excellence in news gathering and reporting from places that matter, no matter how remote.

Date created : 2013-11-04

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