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Cablegate: Solid Representation at Prt Karbala First Media Conference

VZCZCXRO5354
PP RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHKUK
DE RUEHIHL #0026/01 0861905
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 261905Z MAR 08
FM REO HILLAH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 1045
RUEHGB/AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD PRIORITY 0904
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
RUEHIHL/REO HILLAH 1108

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HILLAH 000026

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PREL KPAO IZ
SUBJECT: SOLID REPRESENTATION AT PRT KARBALA FIRST MEDIA CONFERENCE

HILLAH 00000026 001.2 OF 002


This is a PRT Reporting Cable

1. (SBU) SUMMARY: PRT Karbala hosted March 19 a media
conference that was attended by 25 representatives from private
and public television, radio, and newspaper outlets. The
objectives of the conference included introducing Team Leader
and PRToffs to the local media; expressing PRT support for the
media's role in the democratic process; providing the PRT with
an overview of Karbala's media; and discussing potential
interaction between the PRT and the group. The conference
concluded with an open discussion of ways the PRT and the media
could best interact and provide mutual support, and an agenda of
"next-steps". END SUMMARY

2. (SBU) On March 19, PRT Karbala hosted its first media
conference. It included journalists, photographers, editors,
and media technicians from both private and public
organizations. 25 media representatives, including three women,
traveled an hour to arrive at the Regional Embassy Office Hillah
for the conference. Team Leader opened the conference with
welcome remarks followed by an introduction of PRToffs.
Participants were asked in an open discussion format to provide
information about the nature of the Karbala local media,
touching on issues of media safety and pay, training programs,
censorship, access to officials, and media effectiveness.
During lunch break, each participant completed a survey
requesting contact and background information, ensuring the
objective of enlarging the PRT's media contacts database.

KARBALA MEDIA OVERVIEW
------------------------------
3. (U) Out of the 25 media representatives present, 10 were
employed as free-lancers and seven as government employees.
They indicated that total Karbala media is approximately 300
individuals which include reporters, technicians, editors, and
engineers and other technical staff. Of the 300 staff, 50 are
reporters with 30 working for newspapers, 10 for television
networks, and 10 for radio stations.

LACK OF SAFETY AND YET LOW INCOME
-------------------------------
4. (SBU) Attendees lamented that they suffered from safety
concerns as well as poor pay. All 25 participants claimed to
have been previously threatened for performing their line of
work. They noted that although they were issued weapon permits
for their protection, they were unable to actually obtain
weapons. PRT TL made a particular point of addressing the
conference. He pledged that notwithstanding limited resources,
the PRT would do what it could to enable the media to do its
job. Furthermore, he encouraged the media to report to the PRT
any threats to the media so that the PRT and the Embassy could
try to address them.

5. (SBU) Conference attendees reported that they work multiple
jobs to ease the financial hardship. Employees of private
outlets often work for multiple outlets; one reporter said that
he has three separate jobs. Since government reporters cannot
hold non-governmental media positions, they hold part-time jobs
as taxi drivers and the like. The average reporter working for
a private organization earns only USD200 per month while
governmental reporters earn slightly higher rates of around
USD300 per month.

"WE URGENTLY NEED TRAINING"
-----------------------------
6. (SBU) The need for specialized training, especially in
technical skills, was a recurring theme at the conference. Most
attendees have attended some short-term training offered by
volunteer organizations. Training is currently available only
at two non-profit organizations - Karbala Center for Media
Improvement and the Technical Center for Media Training. The
private Ahl Ul-Bayt University also offers some media courses,
but conference participants gave its courses poor marks,
agreeing that they are antiquated and lack a technical
component. Overall, the discussions were critical of most of
the programs for a lack of technical training, a lack of modern
equipment to support technical training, and for being too short
in duration. None of the courses teach software editing, for
example, one of the greatest needs identified by conferees.
They added that training in the United States would greatly
benefit them.

MEDIA RESTRICTED; DE FACTO CENSORSHIP
-----------------------------
7. (SBU) Participants animatedly responded to the subject of
censorship and claimed "oppression" from security forces,
political parties, and elected officials. Non-governmental
representatives stated they were excluded from government
meetings. Self-proclaimed government watchdogs indicated that
they need to rely on third party sources for information as they

HILLAH 00000026 002.2 OF 002


have no access to council or committee meetings and are not
granted interviews. They cited a newspaper that was shut down
after it highlighted government corruption and waste in
executing provincial capital projects. All media, government
and private alike, stated that they are blocked by the
government from covering any acts of violence in Karbala.

"WE ARE BIASED"
----------------------------
8. (SBU): When asked about media bias, attendees were frank and
unapologetic in their admissions of their bias. They felt that
they are effective despite and especially because of their
biases. They reasoned that as long as each of the various
factions (political, religious, etc.) has access to a media
voice, the truth would likely be reported by at least one member
of the media.

PRT AND MEDIA COOPERATION?
-----------------------------
9. (SBU) During an open discussion to identify potential areas
of cooperation between the media and the PRT, conferees asserted
that assistance in establishing a media center is their highest
priority. Although some favored a center for operations
initially, this suggestion was voted down in favor of a training
center. They mentioned converting some space at the "cultural
house", a building operating under the auspices of the Ministry
of Culture, to a media center. They indicated that media
representatives have previously made this suggestion to the
Governor and urged the PRT to reinforce this idea with the
Governor. PRToff concluded the topic by suggesting using the
PRT as the focal point to collect all written ideas the
attendees may have in mind for a Karbala Media Center that will
be discussed in a follow-up meeting the PRT will organize.

10. (SBU) In addition, attendees advocated setting up a
provincial project database, to be posted on a public web page.
They expressed frustration that the provincial government
capital budget process is almost totally opaque. "The secrecy
of the provincial government process effectively precluded
meaningful media coverage of budget and project planning." They
asserted that publishing information publicly would provide
accountability to the populace. No suggestions were made,
however, as to how the provincial government would be convinced
to cooperate.

11. (SBU) COMMENT: The conference reopened PRT Karbala's
initiative to reach out to media representatives in the
province. Both the PC Chairman and Sheikh Ali Kamona, former
Karbala governor, were supportive of the event, and provided the
PRT a solid list of introductory contacts. The PRT will
undertake steps to help develop a plan for a functional and
cost-effective media center, and to help find media training for
the sector representatives. END COMMENT
COOKE

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