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Cablegate: Update On Fallout Between Tolo Tv and Ag

VZCZCXRO6145
RR RUEHDBU RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #1397/01 1150439
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 250439Z APR 07
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7695
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 4002
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 001397

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/FO DAS GASTRIGHT, SCA/A
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR HARRIMAN
OSD FOR SHIVERS
CENTCOM FOR CG CFC-A, CG CJTF-82 POLAD

SENSITIVE, SIPDIS


E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: PREL PGOV PTER PHUM AF
SUBJECT: UPDATE ON FALLOUT BETWEEN TOLO TV AND AG
SABIT

REFTEL: KABUL 1332

SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) In the week since the fallout between Tolo TV
and Attorney General Sabit, multiple protests have
been organized in support of both Tolo TV officials
and the Attorney General. Reactions in the local
press appear to be more balanced than those in the
international media, and while the issue is still
holding media attention, it does not appear to be
escalating. On April 23, the Ministry of Information
and Culture asked Tolo TV to apologize to the Attorney
General Sabit for airing his comments in a way that
could easily be misinterpreted. Tolo has rejected the
request, instead filing a complaint with the Supreme
Court and stating that if the Supreme Court also rules
in AG Sabit's favor, only then will Tolo apologize.
END SUMMARY.


MINISTRY OF INFORMATION CALLS FOR APOLOGY FROM TOLO
--------------------------------------------- ------
2. (U) On April 23, the Ministry of Information and
Culture called on Tolo TV to issue an apology to Sabit
for airing his comments in a way that could be
misinterpreted by the public. In a phone conversation
with the Embassy on April 24, Tolo officials confirmed
that they had refused to honor the request. Tolo
announced that it was taking the matter to the Supreme
Court, with which it filed a formal complaint on April
18, and would only apologize if so ordered by the
Court.

3. (U) On April 24, officials at the Ministry of
Information and Culture confirmed to the Embassy that
the matter had been reviewed by the Commission on
Media Complaints and Violations, mandated by the
current version of the Media Law (2005). The
commission is chaired by Minister of Information and
Culture Khoram and also includes representatives from
the Ministry of Justice, Afghan Independent Human
Rights Commission (AIHRC), several private
journalists, and the School of Journalism at Kabul
University. Note: According the AIHRC, its
representatives were not contacted to participate in
this review. End note.

PROTESTS: "MINE IS BIGGER THAN YOURS"
-------------------------------------

4. (U) Protestors have organized, or more likely been
organized, in favor of both Tolo TV and the Attorney
General over the past week. On April 18, over one
hundred demonstrators gathered in front of Parliament
to protest Sabit's actions. (Note: The protests shut
down Parliament Road and further postponed
Parliament's debate of the Media Law scheduled for
that day. End note.) In response, as early as April
19, pro-Sabit protests were organized in Kabul, Khost,
Nangarhar and Laghman provinces, chanting slogans like
"Long live Abdul Jabar Sabit and the Mujahideen" and
"Down with Tolo TV," and in at least one case, even
burning a mock-up of the Tolo TV insignia in the
street. Estimated participants in each pro-Sabit
rally ranged from 200-300 protestors. Media reports
that protestors may have been coerced or paid cash to
participate are unconfirmed.

BALANCED STATEMENTS IN THE AFGHAN MEDIA
---------------------------------------

5. (U) While Afghan media coverage of the incident was
initially very critical of the GOA, it appears to have
grown more measured in recent days. On April 21,

KABUL 00001397 002 OF 002


Afghanistan's Independent Journalist Association
(AIJA) released a balanced statement that
characterized the government's actions as
"inappropriate" and "hasty," but also urged media
outlets to "act responsibly and professionally." AIJA
maintained that it would have been better for Sabit to
bring the matter before the Commission on Media
Complaints and Violations rather than summon the news
staff and stated that journalists should "not be
summoned for questioning by force." AIJA also
demanded that "civil society institutions refrain from
making issues complicated before they are
investigated."

6. (U) The issue has even captured audiences during
Friday sermons in Kabul mosques. According to media
reports, Mawlawi Enayatollah Balegh, of the Pol-e-
Kheshti Grand Mosque in Kabul told his congregation
that the Attorney General's actions were
"inappropriate," but also said it was not acceptable
for Tolo to "use its position to humiliate the
government, the nation, the political system, and our
religion. All this is against the law, and there is
no benefit in them." He noted that "humiliating
people is against Shari'a Law," and reportedly asked
media outlets to "pay serious attention to protecting
Islam." He also urged Afghans to come to peace on
this issue and to stop making statements in favor of
one party or the other.

COMMENT
-------

7. (U) After a week of heated protests, the recent
shift to more balanced positions by journalists,
government officials and religious leaders alike
indicate that the issue is unlikely to escalate
further, at least locally, absent any further
provocation by Tolo or Sabit. While Mawlawi Balegh's
calls for the media to act in accordance with Islam
are not exactly on par with western standards of
respect for freedom of the press, they do reflect most
Afghans' opinions on where the line should be drawn
between media freedom and local moral standards.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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