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Cablegate: Parliament Overrides Karzai's Veto and Enacts

VZCZCXRO2336
PP RUEHPW
DE RUEHBUL #2478/01 2580321
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 140321Z SEP 08
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 5470
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE PRIORITY
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/SECDEF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL PRIORITY

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KABUL 002478

SENSITIVE
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STATE FOR SCA/FO, SCA/A, S/CRS, DRL
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
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CG CJTF-101, POLAD, JICCENT

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KDEM PGOV AF
SUBJECT: PARLIAMENT OVERRIDES KARZAI'S VETO AND ENACTS
MEDIA LAW

1. (U) Summary: The Wolesi Jirga (WJ, Lower House of the
National Assembly) approved the media law with a two thirds
majority, overcoming President Karzai,s December 2007 veto.
Journalists and NGOs reacted positively to the new law, with
many speaking favorably of the provisions establishing Radio
Television Afghanistan (RTA) as an independent organization
under the executive branch of the government. Criticism of
the law focused on the specific prohibitions on media
publications that harm the moral well-being of people or that
are offensive or libelous.
End Summary.

Basics of the New Law
---------------------

2. (U) On September 6, the WJ passed the media law with the
two-thirds majority needed to overcome Karzai,s veto of the
bill. Karzai,s main objection was that he wanted RTA to
remain under the control of the Ministry of Information and
Culture. Under Article 14 of the new law, RTA is &a public
media that belongs to the Afghan nation and shall be
administered within the framework of the executive branch.8
Article 44 of the law states that a National Radio Television
Commission shall be established to regulate RTA and includes
as one of the Commission's duties, &protecting the
independence, impartiality, and professional reputation of
RTA.8 The seven members of the Commission must include one
religious personality, one lawyer, one engineer, two
journalists, one artist, and one representative from civil
society. The Chair of the Commission is also the Executive
Director of RTA. The law does not specify how the Chair is
selected from the members of the Commission.

3. (U) Article 45 of the new law prohibits the production,
import, reproduction, print, and publication of the following
by mass media and news agencies:

Begin text:

Works and materials that are contrary to the principles of
the holy religion of Islam,
Works and materials which are offensive to other religions
and sects,
Works and materials which are humiliating and offensive to
real or legal persons,
Works and materials which are considered libelous to real and
legal persons, and cause damage to their personality and
credibility,
Works and materials which affect the stability, national
security, and territorial integrity of the country,
False literary works,
Materials and reports that disrupt the public's mind,
Propagation of religions other than the holy religion of
Islam,
Disclosure of identity and pictures of victims of violence
and rape in a manner that damages their social prestige, and
Articles and topics that harm the physical, spiritual and
moral well-being of people, especially children and
adolescents.

End text.

Media Reaction
--------------

4. (SBU) Dr. Hashem Esmatullahi, President of the National
Journalists Union of Afghanistan which represents 7000
journalists in 29 provinces, strongly supports the new law
because it contains a number of reforms that will have a
positive impact on Afghan media including allowing RTA to be
independent of direct government control. On the negative
side it is possible that the Ministry of Information and
Culture will exert control over RTA by use
of the libel and morals provisions of Article 45 or by not
respecting the implementation of the new law.

5. (SBU) Massoud Farivar, General Manager of Salam Watandar

KABUL 00002478 002 OF 002


Radio, characterized the law as a &step in the right
direction8 and &generally sound.8 The law recognizes the
importance of free media to a democratic society and takes
away government control of RTA. Some of the
provisions of Article 45, however, are extremely dangerous
and could effectively erase freedoms promised in the rest of
the law. Nader Naderi spokesperson for the Afghan
Independent Human Rights Commission also expressed concern
that the law did not contain a definition of what constitutes
libel or materials that harm moral well-being, noting that
even a song played on television could be found to be in
violation of the morality clause of Article 45.

6. (SBU) Sharif Hassanyar, News Coordinator for Tolo TV,
praised the section of the law that allows for independence
for RTA. He noted, however, that last week the government
fired the head of programming of RTA, Mir Ali Akbar, for
producing programs alleging corruption by senior government
officials. It is not clear that the government will respect
the independence of RTA whatever the new law says. He also
claimed that under Article 45, journalists and television
stations will be prosecuted for saying anything
critical of the government.

7. (U) Comment: Public reaction to the new law has been
subdued. The silence likely represents fatigue from the 15
month process of enacting the law, general satisfaction on
the part of media, and a wait and see attitude regarding the
implementation of the new law. End Comment.
WOOD

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