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Cablegate: Gon Closes Second Radio Station

VZCZCXRO1002
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHNM #0453 1201503
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 291503Z APR 08
FM AMEMBASSY NIAMEY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4273
INFO RUEHZK/ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RUEHLMC/MCC WASHDC
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 0671

UNCLAS NIAMEY 000453

SIPDIS

DEPT FOR AF/W DENNISON, AF/RSA HARPOLE AND AF/PDPA LISENBY

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI KCOR KPAO NG
SUBJECT: GON closes second radio station

REF: (a) 06 Niamey 1088; (b) Niamey 318

1. (U) Summary: On April 22, 2008, the Conseil Superieur de la
Communication (CSC), Niger's media regulatory body, ordered the
indefinite closure of Agadez-based radio station Sahara FM. In its
official report, the CSC indicates that this decision was made
"without ruling out possible criminal charges." This closing
follows the three-month suspension of Radio France International's
(RFI) local broadcast in March 2008 (ref b). End Summary.

2. (U) On April 18, the CSC summoned Raliou Hamed-Assaleh, the
Sahara FM station manager, to Niamey for allegedly inciting ethnic
hatred and attempting to undermine the army's morale, after both the
Agadez governor and police commissioner complained about the
broadcasting of "dangerous" testimonies of people living in the
region.

3. (U) In a meeting with CSC officials on April 21, Hamed-Assaleh
was informed that Sahara FM had committed two infractions:
broadcasting the inflammatory interviews of the allegedly mistreated
individuals, which could incite ethnic violence; and using a
non-authorized frequency.

4. (SBU) The latter, a technical violation resulting from the recent
sale of Sahara FM, was cited as the reason for the station's
closure. According to the CSC, when a radio station is sold,
ownership of the frequency does not automatically transfer. Instead
the new owner must request authorization from the CSC to continue
broadcasting on that frequency.

5. (SBU) On April 22 the CSC announced the indefinite closure of
Sahara FM and also indicated that their reporting could result in
potential criminal charges. [Comment: while certainly disturbing,
the seriousness of this threat remains unclear, as the CSC can only
call for, but not apply, criminal sanctions. However, these
statements in and of themselves further weaken the GON's oft-stated
claim that the CSC is an independent body operating outside
government influence. End comment.]

6. (U) The current owner of Sahara FM is Mamane Abou, the
owner/publisher of private newspaper "Le Republicain." In 2006 Abou
and his editor-in-chief Oumarou Keita were jailed on charges of
disseminating false news in an article alleging the prime minister's
attempt to shift Niger's foreign policy toward non-western
countries. It is commonly believed that the true motive was to
muzzle the two journalists for their reporting on official
corruption (ref a).

7. (SBU) In a recent edition, Le Republicain published photos of
Nigeriens in the Agadez region who had allegedly been tortured at
the hands of the armed forces. Agadez-based private newspaper Air
Info published equally troubling articles. To date there has been
no similar CSC action against these publications. [Comment: Post
believes that the location (Agadez) and medium (radio) played an
important role in the CSC decision to shutter Sahara FM, as radio
has the capacity to reach a much larger audience than the print
press in Niger, where illiteracy rates are high. Also, the technical
violation cited provides a legal pretext, which allows the CSC to
refute claims it closed the station based solely on its reporting.
End comment.]

ALLEN

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