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In Paris, RFI newsroom grieves for slain colleagues

© Pierre-René Worms/RFI

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by Thomas HUBERT

Latest update : 2013-11-03

As details trickle in about the murders of journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon in Mali, their colleagues have received support from the French authorities and begun the difficult task of coming to terms with their loss.

At Radio France Internationale’s Paris headquarters, Saturday night’s outpouring of grief and anger at the assassination of journalists Ghislaine Dupont and Claude Verlon made way for a deeper sense of loss on Sunday.

Photos of the two murder victims have been put up in the corridors and entrances, with the words “RFI in mourning” stamped across them.

After a briefing with President François Hollande in the morning, the RFI management held a staff meeting to give the latest news on the murders. The meeting confirmed the account given by Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, who visited RFI on Sunday.

“We saw a photo of a car showing no impact of bullets and the bodies 80 metres away,” said the head of RFI’s Africa department Yves Rocle. “It was an execution, not a gun battle,” he said.

RFI management were told that the French air force flew over the area shortly after the kidnapping but did not see the journalists until a ground patrol found their bodies.

Grief-stricken, but undeterred

Those present at the meeting agreed that a memorial ceremony should take place after the bodies are flown back to France and undergo post-mortem examinations in the coming week.

They also discussed coverage of the upcoming legislative elections in Mali, after a day of special reporting next Thursday was cancelled. “We should report it well, without putting lives at risk, but making sure the murderers don’t have the last word,” said Marie-Christine Saragosse, the head of France Médias Monde, the parent company of RFI and FRANCE 24 (video above).

“Yes – we must bear witness,” one of the journalists replied.

RFI staff then resumed their daily work, some next to Dupont’s empty seat on the Africa desk, but their minds irrepressibly drifted back to her – eliciting tentative smiles as they remembered her old-fashioned sense of humour. “The way she would put down the phone and say, ‘What a bunch of wallies’,” reporter Olivier Rogez said.

He added that she had her own, African version of the French expression “a fish under a rock”, to describe a "fishy piece of information": she could see through it so clearly that she called it “a hippo under a stone”.

Above her desk, cluttered with piles of papers that illustrated the many stories she covered at any one time, a poster printed by her colleagues still says “Gigi transfers – House removals”, a joke at her notorious reluctance to move into RFI’s new offices next to FRANCE 24’s earlier this year.

'Technical wizardry'

In contrast to Dupont’s reputation in the newsroom, Verlon is remembered for his year-round tan – a result of his love of field reporting.

'We just lost two amazing colleagues'

Tony Cross, a reporter for RFI’s English-language radio station, recalled travelling to Pakistan with Claude Verlon in 2008. “We were covering the election and we travelled to this town outside Lahore to interview the head of an influential clan, who is now a minister.”

The interview was a scoop and Cross said Verlon’s “technical wizardry” made it possible to organise a quick satellite feed before driving back to Lahore. The reporter has vivid memories of “the atmosphere as night fell and Claude was beaming our reporting to Paris and from there, to the wider world”.

Cross added: “Working with him, you had a great sense of companionship. You were really together as a team.”

Date created : 2013-11-03

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