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Cablegate: World Press Freedom Day: Dcm Discusses U.S. Journalism At

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DE RUEHVN #0397 1350645
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R 150645Z MAY 07
FM AMEMBASSY VIENTIANE
TO SECSTATE WASHDC 1213

UNCLAS VIENTIANE 000397

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E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM ELAB KDEM PGOV PREL KPAO LA
SUBJECT: WORLD PRESS FREEDOM DAY: DCM DISCUSSES U.S. JOURNALISM AT
LAO-AMERICAN CENTER

Ref: STATE 055366

1. (U) SUMMARY: To mark World Press Freedom Day, the DCM spoke with
a group of roughly 15 college students at the Lao-American Center on
May 2 about the history of press freedom in the United States and
the ethical dilemmas faced by media organizations. This was a
timely subject, since the Lao National Assembly is getting ready to
debate a new media law. END SUMMARY.

2. The DCM addressed about 15 students at the Lao-American Center on
May 2 in observance of World Press Freedom Day. Drawing from her
experiences working for a television news organization before
joining the Foreign Service, she discussed the historical roots of
freedom of the press in America and provided an overview of the
shift from partisan journalism to the ideal of "objective"
reporting. She gave students copies of the International Herald
Tribune and asked them to try to identify the opinion pages. The
DCM noted that early American newspapers were often reckless and
irresponsible and discussed the difficult issues of balancing
freedom and social responsibility. In the United States, she said,
the press has sometimes agreed to withhold sensitive information but
on other occasions has successfully argued in court for the right to
publish. She described specific situations, including the Cuban
Missile Crisis and the Pentagon Papers publication, when news
organizations had to weigh national security concerns against the
public's right to know. She noted that other countries have
different laws, regulations, and cultural norms governing what news
organizations can publish. These issues are of particular interest
for Laos, she said, since the National Assembly is getting ready to
debate a new media law.

3. (U) Finally, the students got into groups, took on the roles of
senior editors and producers at major media outlets, and debated
whether they would publicize certain controversial material. Using
scenarios based on news organizations' dilemmas over whether to
publish the Unabomber manifesto, the Danish cartoons depicting the
Prophet Muhammad, and the Virginia Tech video, the students debated
whether the information they were considering publishing was
sensitive to other cultures, whether the public would want to see
the information, and if the information would (in the case of the
cartoons) create public disturbances or (in the case of the
Unabomber manifesto) save lives. Each group then reported on the
decisions its members would make as leaders in this difficult
business.

4. (SBU) Comment: Given Laos's Communist political system, press
freedom is a sensitive subject. The DCM deliberately refrained from
discussing the state of press freedom in Laos and chose
non-political scenarios for the group discussions. Nevertheless,
the discussion of press freedom in the United States clearly
conveyed American values. Lao students tend to be reluctant to
speak in class, but we were impressed with the level of
sophistication that many of them displayed during the group
discussions. In most cases, their arguments and decisions were
similar to those made by real-life journalists. Embassy Vientiane
will submit the PowerPoint presentation from this discussion to
Regional Information Resources Officer Linda Parker for inclusion on
the IRC website.

HASLACH

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