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Cablegate: Voa Horn of Africa Service Chief Discusses Voa

VZCZCXRO2597
RR RUEHROV
DE RUEHDS #3116/01 3220922
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 170922Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY ADDIS ABABA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 2757
INFO RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE
RUEHLO/AMEMBASSY LONDON 3251
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 1807
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEPADJ/CJTF HOA
RUEKDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC
RUEWMFD/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADDIS ABABA 003116

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KPAO ET
SUBJECT: VOA HORN OF AFRICA SERVICE CHIEF DISCUSSES VOA
ACCESS WITH PRIME MINISTER ADVISOR BEREKET

Summary
-------

1. (SBU) Voice of America (VOA) Horn of Africa Service Chief
David Arnold met with Advisor to the Prime Minister Bereket
Simon on October 23 to request the Ethiopian government (GoE)
to consider favorably VOA applications for licenses for VOA
reporters (local stringers) to be based outside Addis Ababa
and to urge the GoE to grant VOA reporters greater access to
senior GoE officials, especially on stories related to
Ethiopia's progress on, and challenges with, development.
Bereket said he did not think the Ethiopian government would
be inclined to grant additional licenses, citing the
Ethiopian government's negative perception of VOA's coverage
of Ethiopia at this time, but said that he would discuss the
matter with his colleagues. Arnold said VOA's coverage is
fair and balanced and urged Bereket to communicate the GoE's
concerns regularly and specifically to VOA in Washington.
The Embassy's Information Officer and Political Officer
accompanied Arnold. End Summary.

A Sour Relationship
-------------------

2. (SBU) Bereket said that the GoE-VOA relationship "has been
soured" for several years. He insisted that the GoE has
"never attacked VOA, but VOA works seriously to derail
Ethiopia's whole (development and reform) process," charging
that VOA encourages violent opposition groups through its
"unfounded reports." "VOA is not doing its job
professionally," Bereket said, adding that the GoE has
"repeatedly appealed to all responsible parties within VOA
but has never received an encouraging response." Pressed by
Arnold for specifics, Bereket says VOA operates in Ethiopia
with a "Cold War mentality." "Why," Bereket said,
emphasizing that he was expressing his personal view, "do we
even need VOA in Ethiopia?" "VOA creates havoc," he added,
"that's how we see it."

3. (SBU) Bereket insisted that the GoE still seeks a good
working relationship with VOA. Nonetheless, he cited a
recent VOA article on Ethiopian Airlines as unnecessarily
critical and therefore harmful to Ethiopia's image. Bereket
says Ethiopian policymakers must balance the need for
Ethiopians' access to information and the need to ensure that
"negative oriented media" does not derail Ethiopia's
progress. In response, Arnold said VOA maintains rigorous
professional standards and objectivity and pressed Bereket to
communicate any specific concerns with VOA Washington on a
regular basis, so that VOA can work with the GoE most
effectively to address such concerns. Bereket replied that
the if the Ethiopian government raised every concern, "we
would be asking for a correction every day, and we have other
jobs to do. We've given up hope on trying to compile all the
negative campaigns by VOA." Arnold noted that the VOA has
very little access to senior Ethiopian officials, and greater
access would permit VOA to provide greater coverage of the
GoE's perspective. Bereket said such access might be
possible.

Bereket: VOA Works With Those Who Promote Instability
--------------------------------------------- --------

4. (SBU) The Ethiopian government monitors VOA daily, Bereket
said, adding that senior officials do not listen to VOA
because it is a "biased and prejudiced media outlet."
Bereket explained that "We know most of the people working at
VOA because we fought together in the liberation struggle.
We know that they are very powerful, 'untouchables,' so we
can't predict a significant paradigm shift in VOA. We know
VOA leadership in Washington thinks the coverage is fine, and
will be rated highly in your internal evaluations, but we on
the receiving end have a different perspective. We are
trying to stabilize the country, fight terrorism, promote
development and democratize. For us, improving VOA has
become a dead end. Our goal now is simply to give a local
alternative to Ethiopian listeners. We can just try to rebut
(VOA mis/disinformation) using our own media."

Bereket: Ethiopians Need Unbiased Information
---------------------------------------------

ADDIS ABAB 00003116 002 OF 002

5. (SBU) Arnold responded that, while GoE views are clear,
VOA seeks to tell relevant stories about the challenges and
progress of Ethiopians from all parts of the country. Arnold
added that additional VOA reporters in Ethiopia would only
enhance, not detract from, VOA's coverage. Bereket was
reluctant to agree to expansion of VOA's service in Ethiopia,
noting, "Expansion of service at this time would lead to a
worsening of the relationship. It would be difficult to
comprehend. 'Ethiopian Idol' (or similar entertainment
programs) might be okay, but it would be offset by VOA's
campaigns against Ethiopian Airlines and the Ethiopian
government. The 2010 elections are approaching and
Ethiopians need nonpartisan, unbiased information." Bereket
acknowledged that VOA as an organization primarily "has the
independent interests of the American people at heart - and
we respect that," but added that "(some members of VOA) are
working hand in hand with people trying to destabilize the
whole country."

6. (SBU) Arnold noted that a free press and greater access by
journalists to a broad cross-section of the population is
important for any democratization process. Bereket, however,
retorted that should the Ethiopian government "start giving
licenses and then revoking them, we will be portrayed as a
country that is against the media. We can't abide by the
relentless campaigns against us, and although we have never
spoken a word against the United States, we are attacked for
our supposed mistakes. We are asking for fair treatment, and
I see no encouraging signs." Bereket agreed finally to
discuss the possibility of additional licenses for VOA
reporters "with my colleagues," but added his personal
opinion that "what good would it do for Ethiopia? More
damage would not help."

7. (U) David Arnold did not have the opportunity to review
this cable prior to his departure from Ethiopia.
YAMAMOTO

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