|Official Country Name:||Department of Réunion|
|Region (Map name):||Africa|
Background & General Characteristics
Situated in the Indian Ocean, off the southeastern African coast, east of Madagascar, the tropical, volcanic island now known as Réunion, has a long colonial past. When it was discovered in 1513 by the Portuguese, who named it Bourbon Island, there were no inhabitants. Between the seventeenth and nineteenth century, French, Africans, Chinese, Malabar Indians and Malays gradually populated it. In spite of its small size (207 km of coastline), the island became a favorite and strategic stopover on the East Indies trade route. It changed hands several times, first becoming French. After a blockade, it fell into the hands of the English for a brief time and was then handed back to France. It is now an overseas property of France. The capital is Saint-Denis.
It was estimated that some 732,570 inhabitants lived there in 2001 with an estimated population growth of 1.57 percent. Life expectancy is about 73 years. Literacy among people aged 15 and over is about 79 percent.
The French constitution of September 28, 1958, and French law are in effect. La Réunion elects three representatives to the French Senate. French is the official language, but Creole is widely used. In the 1970s and until 1981, Albert Ramassamy defended the use of Creole in schools. The controversy surrounding the question of language became important. On one side there were the partisans of integration, on the other the autonomists. The same cultural question continues to have political and ideological implications as the question of power arises.
The local press dates back to 1773, when the Port Louis Royal Press published the first French-language newspaper. It was launched by Pierre Saunois and Pierre Poivre, who landed in l'Isle de France in 1767. The paper bore the long name of Annonces, affiches et avis divers pour les colonies des Isles de France et de Bourbon (Announcements, Posters and other notices for the Islands of France and Bourbon colonies ). It was the official government publication for legal announcements, but it made the creation of an informative newspaper possible. Under constant censorship it disappeared in 1790.
A new press was created in 1792. Directed by Abbot Delsuc, Le Vrai Républicain (The True Republican ) or Journal Politique et Littéraire de l'Isle Bourbon (Political and Literary paper of Bourbon Island ) had a difficult start in 1794. It went through several crises due first to a shortage of paper, then to maintenance and financial problems, and finally a Spanish flu epidemic which took the lives of several critical press workers, before disappearing after only one year. La Patrie Créole lost in the same year its chief editor, its feature writer and two other workers.
In 1804, Icery and Boyer created a new successful press and managed to publish La Gazette de l'Isle de La Réunion (The Reunion Island Gazette ) It was the ancestor of L'indicateur Colonial (The Colonial Indicator ), which later became Le Moniteur (The Monitor ).
In 1831, Nicol de la Serve animated the Francs-Créoles Association and created Le Furet (TheFerret ), criticizing the administration. In February 1833, de la Serve created an underground paper, Le Salézien. Other legal papers appeared as well, such as Le Glaneur (The Gleaner, 1832), Le Colonial (1833), L'indicateur Colonial (1835), Le Conservateur (1837), and Le Courier de Saint-Paul (1843).
Some of the landmarks in the history of the press include Antoine Roussin's La Semaine (The Week ), which brought illustration, caricatures and humor to the island; in 1879, Le Sport Colonial became the first sports newspaper. In 1880, a decree announced that French laws would be applied in La Réunion. This change helped the diffusion of newspapers and put an end to archaic laws applied on the island. In 1887, the first republican newspaper reflected social issues. Le Salazien-moniteur, later called Le Journal des Communes became a big success and a daily. The information came slowly and the colonial press suffered from isolation. This state of affairs lasted until 1906 when the telegraph finally linked La Ré-union to the rest of the world.
Up to 1906, 189 periodical titles had been printed on La Réunion. However, the modern press was really born between 1914 and 1939, a prolific period when 28 newspapers were started like Le Progrès, Dieu et Patrie (God and Country ), and La Démocratie. After the Second World War in 1944, Témoignages (The Witness ), a newspaper with communist affiliations, was started, and it became a daily in 1958. The persecution of this paper by the prefet became so bad that in 1961 alone, the paper was confiscated 13 times. Not surprisingly, the revolt against such treatment led to a trial in which the prefet was condemned to pay 25,000 Francs to the newspaper and to return the illegally confiscated papers. The outcome of this trial certainly had a positive influence in respect to the enforcement of law on the island.
In 1951 Le Journal de l'Ile de la Réunion, first published in 1899 by Joseph Bertho, was launched again by Fernand Cazal with a highly professional team. It was an anti-government publication, and it competed with the four most powerful papers of the time: Témoignages, Le People, La Démocratie and Le Progrès. By 1976, it faced the added competition of Le Quotidien de la Réunion. Roughly at the same time, in 1972, Antoine Minatchy, interested in theatre and movies, with personal experience in Roger Planchon's theatre and in a Truffaut's movie, created the bi-monthly Les Cahiers de la Réunion et del'Océan Indien. This publication lasted for less than ten years, at which point technology drove several publications out of business.
Largely agricultural with sugarcane as the main crop (85 percent of exports), La Réunion is turning to tourism in the hope of relieving the staggeringly high unemployment (42.8 percent of the working age population in 1998). As a result of these economic difficulties there are serious social discrepancies. Caucasians and Indians generally do well but minority groups are particularly poverty stricken, in the manner of many African countries. Strikes are severe and led to rioting in 1991. With an estimated per capita GDP of only US $4,800 (1998 est.), La Réunion depends heavily on French financial aid for its well-being. The Euro replaced the French franc as currency in January 2002, but it remains to be seen what effect, if any, this will have on La Réunion's economy.
Press Laws and Censorship
The English blockade of news ended in 1810 when Bourbon became English. La Gazette became The Isle of Bourbon Government Gazette. After the four first editions were published in English, Farquhar decided to publish the fifth and subsequent ones in a bilingual French / English edition and turned the paper into a weekly. The English also decided against censorship, to facilitate their relation with the French until they finally returned the island to France in 1815. La Gazette was at the time the only paper on the island, and it returned to its former name.
True freedom of the press did not come until 1848. By 1849, there was a choice of eight newspapers that all had a special agenda in respect to slavery: Le Conservateur (The Conservative ) and Le Journal du Commerce with journalist Freslan supported slavery, whereas Démocratie Coloniale (Colonial Democracy ) with Auguste Brunet defended the emancipation of slaves.
Frightened by the turn of events, the Republic passed the law of August 7, 1850 against "direct or indirect provocation". People who did not comply were condemned to three months to two years jail sentences or fines of 500 to 4,000 francs.
A December 2, 1851 coup put an end to what freedom of the press had existed. On February 17 and 23, 1852, laws were passed that stated that newspapers were to be authorized by Napoleon III. His delegate on the island was the Governor. Per an article passed May 11, 1868, the Governor alone could decide whether or not to authorize publication. He moreover had the right to suspend or confiscate a newspaper if he deemed it dangerous. In spite of the conditions, new papers continued to appear, such as Le Travail, (Labor ) Le Progrès Colonial (The Colonial Progress ), and Le Nouveau Salézien.
In 1880, the metropolitan law was applied to La Ré-union, which gave freedom to printing and book storekeeper professions.
In 1997, there were some 173,000 radios and 127,000 television sets on the island. There were two AM stations and 55 FM stations broadcast from La Réunion. No short-wave radio was available. Television broadcast stations included 22 stations plus 18 low-power repeaters.
Electronic News Media
As early as 1996, Le Journal de l'Ile had launched its web version on a local provider. By early 1998, it already had more than 50,000 connections. Its address, http://www.jir.fr, presently receives 300 to 400 daily connections. Le Quotidien (The Daily ) and Presse Économique (Economics Press ) also have websites. There are several relatively new websites. La-vague.net is a press agency site and the first structured search tool exclusively dedicated to la Réunion and the Western Indian Ocean area; it lists more than 1200 referenced sites, 3000 qualified contacts already. In 2000 there were approximately 10,000 Internet users on La Réunion.
Education & Training
Students in journalism have traditionally been trained in France, but the University of La Réunion now offers a degree in Information and Communication Sciences.
After 1981, school children turned to radio as their favorite means of expression. Two Radio Télévision Françaises d'Outremer (RFO) programs "Embrayages" (The Clutch ) and "Journal des Jeunes" also proved important to this generation. In 1990, encouraged by the National Education Initiative, students returned to newspapers that they had neglected for some time. School newspapers even had judiciary status. In March 1997, students claimed a way of life and demonstrated and proposed a list of candidates for the regional elections. Such publications include Totem-la-Tribu, Le Crieur des Facs and L'Étudiant déchaîné.
Because of La Réunion's strategic location, it developed a network of print media early in its colonial period. Newspapers reflecting varying points of view are published there, and publications are beginning to move towards the Internet as a means of expanding their audiences and accessibility. La Réunion is well prepared for its media to move into the twenty-first century.
Clicanoo. STOR Informatique, 2000. Available from www.clicanoo.com.
Serviable, Mario, and Karine Técher. Histoire de la presse à la Réunion. Available from www.promore union.com.