We've previously detailed how Pat Robertson and his CBN News operation have sided with Ivory Coast leader Laurent Gbagbo, who has refused to leave office following an election that international observers agree he lost. Robertson denied Gbagbo was an "evil thug" and declared of him: "He's a Christian, he's a nice person, and he's run a fairly clean operation in the Ivory Coast."
Since then, conditions in the Ivory Coast have deteriorated. We've noted that pro-Gbagbo forces have been accused of attacking a peaceful demonstration, killing seven women. Additionally, Human Rights Watch has stated that the "three-month campaign of organized violence by security forces under the control of Laurent Gbagbo and militias that support him gives every indication of amounting to crimes against humanity." (It also noted human rights violations by supporters of the internationally acknowledged winner of the election, Alassane Ouattara, a Muslim.) More than 100,000 citizens have reportedly fled the country to escape the violence.
CBN did run one article in March on the escalating violence, but Robertson appears not to have spoken about the Ivory Coast since his January defense of Gbagbo.
Why are CBN and Robertson supporting Gbagbo, and why have they failed to denounce the violence he's being accused of? One possibility: Gbagbo's wife made it possible for CBN to broadcast its evangelical programming in the Ivory Coast, including a localized version of its flagship program The 700 Club.
An undated article on the CBN Africa website details a visit to CBN's Virginia headquarters by Gbagbo's wife, Simone (misspelled in the article), who "wanted CBN to provide Christian TV programs for her country" and "would guarantee that the programs would air on national television." The page goes on to tout how a dusk-to-dawn curfew in the country means that "everyone is at home watching TV." From the article:
It all started a little more than a year ago when the First Lady of Ivory Coast visited The Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in Virginia Beach, Virginia on a special mission. Mrs. Somone Gbagbo, the wife of Ivory Coast President Laurent Gbagbo, wanted CBN to provide Christian TV programs for her country. In return she would guarantee that the programs would air on national television. To respond to the immediate need, episodes of The 700 Club were regularly dubbed into French and shipped for broadcast. The goal, however, was to have an African program that would be tailored for the region with French African hosts. Within a few months, Raymond Kauffee from Cameroon and Macy Domingo from Ivory Coast began hosting Le Club 700 that now airs in French speaking countries throughout the region.
With strong support from pastors of various denominations in Ivory Coast, CBN began to make preparation for an evangelistic media campaign that would take place during the Christmas holidays. What no one expected though, was that the country would erupt into civil war. Fortunately, so far, French troops have managed to keep rebels from entering the capital of Abijan. CBN WorldReach Director Peter Darg writes from the capital; "Daytime in Abidjan seems fairly normal, apart from open bed pickup trucks with cannons mounted on the back driven around town by soldiers who look desperately anxious to shoot at something. French paratroopers are also cruising around in APC's, but nobody seems to know what they are doing or where they are going. With a complete curfew from sun down to sun up, everybody is trying to race around to get to work, school or shopping and mostly creating massive traffic tie ups. After dark, everyone is at home watching TV, so the blitz (media campaign) timing is perfect in this regard (imagine what the USA TV networks would give to force everyone in the country to be in their homes every night watching the TV or face being shot)".
The Ivory Coast media campaign began December 22 and aired in prime time on national TV channel RTI through December 29. In addition to drama, animation and documentary programs, CBN has produced a one-hour special hosted by Kauffee and Domingo that aired on Christmas Day. CBN is also providing a series of 20 half-hour radio programs for the FM station in Abijan, Radio Frequence Vie. These radio programs are based on Pat Robertson's best selling book and TV series Answers. The same package of programs will also be shown in Burkina Faso, Benin, Mali and Senegal. Volunteers will man phones and handle mail response for what is expected to be a massive regional response to the programming.
How important is the timing of this outreach? TV Host Macy Domingo explains: "Now we have a Christian President and the First Lady has even testified about her faith on TV. This has changed the mentality of people because they used to think Christianity was just for poor people. But now they see it's even for high profile people." Macy went on to say that this new openness has created an opportunity for the Gospel, especially now as they are looking for answers and hoping for peace.
Meanwhile, Robertson's CBN has continued its support of Gbagbo with an April 1 article that includes a friendly interview with Gbagbo's daughter, Marie Singleton, who lives in Maryland. CBN senior reporter George Thomas focused much of the conversation on the Christian faith of Gbagbo's family, making such statements as, "I know that your mom and your dad, the president, President Gbagbo and Mrs. Simone Gbabgo, are strong Christians. You are also a person of faith."
Thomas didn't mention the fact that, as even the CBN article to which the interview is attached noted, "Gbagbo lost last November's presidential election according to his country's election commission and international observers, but has stubbornly refused to step down." And he made no mention at all of the growing accusations of human rights violations by the Gbagbo regime and its supporters.
The apparent centrality of Gbagbo and his wife to CBN's interests in the Ivory Coast is relevant to CBN's reporting on the situation. Obviously, they should do a better job of making that clear.