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Cablegate: Juba Journalists Discuss Elections

VZCZCXRO7854
OO RUEHGI RUEHMA RUEHROV
DE RUEHKH #1288/01 2381153
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 251153Z AUG 08
FM AMEMBASSY KHARTOUM
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 1704
INFO RUCNFUR/DARFUR COLLECTIVE
RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/CJTF HOA

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KHARTOUM 001288

DEPT FOR AF/SPG, A/S FRAZER, SE WILLIAMSON
NSC FOR BPITTMAN AND CHUDSON
ADDIS ABABA FOR USAU
DEPT PLS PASS USAID FOR AFR/SUDAN

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: ASEC PGOV PREL KPKO SOCI AU UNSC SU
SUBJECT: JUBA JOURNALISTS DISCUSS ELECTIONS

1. (SBU) Summary: At ConGen Juba's monthly journalism club gathering
16 media representatives related their pessimism regarding the
readiness of civil society to support the highly complex elections
in 2009, but agreed that even if the outcome is flawed, the creation
of a democratic state is an evolutionary process. They agreed the
media have a responsibility to use the elections to educate civil
society so that people will, over time, grow to understand their
role in promoting good governance. End summary.

2. (SBU) ConGen Juba has initiated a monthly media gathering in
order to foster information sharing and informally build the
capacity of the South's nascent media. At the meeting held on
August 21, the topic for discussion was the proposed 2009 elections.
Participants, including 16 representatives of state and public
television, radio and print media, were generally pessimistic
concerning the probable outcome of the elections. Many felt that if
GNU President Omar al Bashir is indicted by the ICC, as expected,
under no circumstances will he step down from power. For that
reason, many also thought that GNU First Vice President Salva Kiir
Mayardit will not contest the GNU presidency, but instead stand for
the presidency of the Government of Southern Sudan (GOSS). If the
SPLM runs a candidate, the consensus was that it would be someone
other than Kiir, although no one could say who they thought it might
be.

3. (SBU) Despite this obstacle, most of the journalists did expect
the elections to take place, even if just in the South. However,
the majority also voiced their concern that the forthcoming
six-level elections will be far too complex for the majority of
illiterate and uneducated Southerners to understand - given that
this will be the South's first elections in two generations. The
electoral law itself is so complicated many in the room admitted
they do not understand all its nuances. The level of civic
education programs required to prepare the general (and mostly
illiterate) public for the task ahead simply, they said, cannot be
accomplished in the time frame mapped out in 2009.

4. (SBU) On a humorous note, one newspaper editor reported that his
NISS censors speak and read English so poorly that he simply creates
bland headlines for his more controversial articles, since they
seldom read beyond the titles, and he is mostly then able to
publish what he wants.

5. (SBU) Every media outlet represented (except for Radio Bakhita)
stated that they had NISS personnel reading their news ahead of time
and censoring stories not to their liking. The fact that newspapers
are generally printed in Khartoum due to the absence of presses in
Juba makes it easier for GNU to censor them. Nhial Bol, of the
newspaper The Citizen, forecasted that his paper would likely be
shut down during the elections given recent negative GNU reaction to
his coverage of the news.

6. (SBU) The group agreed, however, that despite these obstacles,
the media have a critically important role to play. The creation
of a democracy in Sudan, they said, will be an evolutionary process,
and even if the elections fail, if journalists begin to educate
people on their rights and responsibilities, it will begin to lay a
foundation that can be built upon later. The time to start, they
agreed, is now. The lack of a media law that clearly sets out free
speech protections severely inhibits their ability to perform this
function, however. This, coupled with the lack of printing presses
in Juba with which to print newspapers (meaning they must be printed
elsewhere and flown into Juba), the high rate of illiteracy, and the
severe limitation on advertising revenue available to support
private radio stations as well as newspapers, makes developing a
viable public service media in Southern Sudan a real challenge.

7. (SBU) In line with that, and given their inexperience in covering
elections with an eye to civic education, the group asked ConGen
Juba to provide a workshop on this subject as soon as possible.
Juba will come in with a request septel for IIP support for such a
program.

8. (SBU) Most participants also focused on corruption as a major
problem in Southern Sudan, and pointed out that there are few
mechanisms available for holding corrupt officials accountable.
Attempts by the media to combat corruption are hindered by the fact
that there are no laws to protect journalists who report on
wrongdoing, and no code of laws under which corrupt officials can be
effectively prosecuted. However, most of the media representatives
emphasized the need to build alliances between journalists and
institutions such as the Anticorruption Commission and members of
the Southern Sudanese Legislative Assembly to build support for anti
corruption strategies.


KHARTOUM 00001288 002 OF 002


7. (SBU) Comment: The media in Southern Sudan are still
underdeveloped and only beginning to perform a role as public
"watchdogs." The lack of a media law that clearly sets out free
speech protections severely inhibits their ability to perform this
function. However, these journalists also feared that a media law
hostile to their work would also be a problem. ConGen Juba will
continue to look for ways to work with the nascent southern Sudanese
media to try to help build it into the strong public information
service the South needs.

ASQUINO

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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