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Cablegate: Embassy Support for World Press Freedom Day

VZCZCXRO8887
RR RUEHDBU RUEHIK RUEHPW RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #1559/01 1281319
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 081319Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7932
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 4032
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 001559

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

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-76 POLAD

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PTER PGOV PREL PHUM AF
SUBJECT: EMBASSY SUPPORT FOR WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY

REF: A. STATE 55366
B. KABUL 1332

SUMMARY
-------

1. (U) While freedom of the press is currently a
highly sensitive issue in Afghanistan, World Press
Freedom Day provided the opportunity for Embassy Kabul
to go on the record supporting media freedoms in
Afghanistan. The Ambassador released a press
statement on the issue, and the DCM attended a
workshop for members of Parliament and journalists
that included several high level GOA and international
community officials. Interestingly, the controversial
Minister of Information himself handed out
certificates honoring courageous journalists to some
of the very journalists who are criticizing him. End
summary.

AMBASSADOR WOOD ISSUES PRESS RELEASE
------------------------------------

2. (U) On May 3, the Embassy issued the following
statement by the Ambassador on the issue of media
freedoms in Afghanistan. The statement, which was
also posted on the Embassy's public website, received
limited coverage in the Afghan print and electronic
media due to several high profile security incidents,
including the assassination of a Senator and a bomb
attack against an ANP bus, that captured significant
media coverage during the day. The statement was read
aloud by the Afghan master of ceremonies at the May 3
World Press Freedom Day event (para 4).

3. (U) Begin text: On the occasion of World Press
Freedom Day, I would like to underscore U.S. support
for a free media around the world. The free and open
exchange of ideas is the foundation of accountable
governance. On World Press Freedom Day, we remember
and mourn all of the journalists who have lost their
lives in Afghanistan this past year. We will continue
to support the Government of Afghanistan, journalists
and civil society as they work together to foster a
free and vibrant Afghan media. End text.

EMBASSY SIGNALS SUPPORT AT SEMINAR ON PRESS FREEDOM
------------------------------------------
4. (U) The same day the DCM and human rights officer
attended a seminar on media freedoms attended by about
150 members of Parliament, journalists, diplomats and
NGO's. The seminar was organized by Internews, a
media lobbying NGO, whose advocacy activities for
freedom of the press in Afghanistan are partially
funded by USAID. Parliamentarians who attended the
seminar included members of Parliament's Commission on
Religious and Cultural Affairs, which is responsible
for drafting amendments to the Media Law currently
being debated in Parliament.

5. (U) Vice President Khalili and Minister of
Information and Culture Khuram both gave remarks at
the seminar. Both speakers asserted the GOA's
commitment to ensuring freedom of the press in
Afghanistan, with Khalili describing it as "a gift
from God," but both also spoke about the need for an
Afghan media that is "more professional" and that
"respects Islam and Allah." VP Khalili specifically
noted that the significant gains in freedom of the
press since the fall of the Taliban should be credited
to the GOA, which he said was committed to the further
expansion of "information dissemination throughout
Afghanistan."

6. (U) Minister of Information Khuram acknowledged
that, "If there is no free media, democracy cannot be
achieved," and that, "Criticism of the government

KABUL 00001559 002 OF 002


plays a key role in correcting the government."
However, he was careful to add that, "If we do not
regulate this freedom, it will explode and the country
will suffer." He then criticized the media, noting
that its professional capacity needs to be increased
in order to "avoid misunderstandings" (an indirect,
yet clear reference to the recent incident between
Tolo TV and Attorney General Sabit; reftel B). Noting
that "The news is now a source of power," Khuram
likened it to "an armed group with a different
appearance" and criticized the media community as
having many unprofessional journalists who have not
had proper education in journalism or who are
unfamiliar with the laws regulating media activity.

7. (U) Other speakers included chiefs of mission from
the EU and EC (both of whom criticized the
Parliament's recent decision not to convert Radio
Television Afghanistan from a state-run media outlet
into an independent public service broadcaster) and
the Canadian Ambassador. Copies of the U.S.
Ambassador's press release were distributed during the
seminar. During the seminar, several journalists were
presented awards by VP Khalili and Minister Khuram,
including one that was given posthumously to Ajmal
Naqshbandi, the journalist recently executed by the
Taliban. Khalili and Khuram also presented awards to
two journalists who were being recognized for bravery
in the face of allegedly being beaten by Afghan
security officials and the other for allegedly being
imprisoned by the GOA for having contact with Taliban
officials. (Note: It is unclear whether Khalili and
Khuram had been briefed on who they would be issuing
the awards to beforehand or whether they were aware of
the irony of having such awards presented by the GOA.
End note.)

8. Comment: The event was an important occasion for
the journalistic community to lay down a marker that
press freedom is an international issue and how it
plays out in Afghanistan is being monitored both
inside and outside the country. At the same time,
governmental spokesmen such as Minister Khoram, as
well as media representatives themselves, were forced
to confront the tensions between the value of a free
media and the exigencies of fighting an insurgency.
The result was one day of healthy dialogue on these
important issues.
WOOD

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