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Cablegate: Respected Editor Resigns; Gives Views On Ugandan Media

VZCZCXRO5342
RR RUEHGI RUEHRN RUEHROV
DE RUEHKM #1524/01 3250647
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 200647Z NOV 08
FM AMEMBASSY KAMPALA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0915
INFO RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE
RUCNIAD/IGAD COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KAMPALA 001524

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM KDEM UG
SUBJECT: RESPECTED EDITOR RESIGNS; GIVES VIEWS ON UGANDAN MEDIA

REF: KAMPALA 01484

1. (SBU) Summary: The Editor-in-Chief of Uganda's New Vision
newspaper, Els De Temmerman, resigned on October 24 over a lack of
editorial independence. The Belgian national said that Robert
Kabushenga, the paper's Chief Executive Officer (CEO), forced her to
keep President Museveni in the headlines and to run pro-government
stories. The Government of Uganda (GOU) owns 50% of The New Vision.
De Temmerman said that Museveni refused to accept her resignation
and has since intervened to mediate the conflict between her and
Kabushenga, but the situation has not yet been resolved. De
Temmerman expressed concern over the lack of journalistic integrity
in the Ugandan press and said that self-regulation and formal
journalism training are desperately needed. End Summary.

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New Vision Editor-in-Chief Leaves Paper
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2. (U) The Editor-in-Chief of the government-owned daily, The New
Vision, Els De Temmerman, resigned from the paper on October 24,
publicly citing personal reasons for the abrupt departure. The
rival Daily Monitor, on October 26, quoted De Temmerman saying that
she left because of a lack of editorial independence, something she
said was promised when she accepted the position two years ago. New
Vision CEO Robert Kabushenga initially refused to comment on "staff
and management matters." On October 27, after the Daily Monitor
story, Kabushenga wrote that the "editorial independence of our
product is not dependant on one individual...and that The New Vision
affords sufficient autonomy for professionals to do their work."

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De Temmerman: The CEO Took Over the Newsroom
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3. (SBU) De Temmerman discussed her departure from The New Vision
and the state of Ugandan media with the diplomatic corps on November
6. She confirmed reports that she resigned from the paper on
October 24 due to a lack of editorial independence. De Temmerman
said that Kabushenga had increasingly pressured her to put President
Museveni on the front page and to run pro-government stories.
Kabushenga, she recounted, said that Museveni was unhappy with his
coverage in the paper. "I pushed back, trying to explain to him
that it would not serve the government's interests to turn The New
Vision into a propaganda paper," she explained. De Temmerman
lamented Kabushenga's lack of journalistic credentials and said that
he had no contractual right to get involved in newsroom business
(Note: Kabushenga's replacement of respected journalist William Pike
at The New Vision in December 2006 was controversial because of
Kabushenga's previous role as the government's media spokesman. The
fear then was that Kabushenga would undermine the New Vision's
independence. End note.).

4. (SBU) De Temmerman said that Museveni asked her to take the
Editor-in-Chief job to "improve the quality of the paper" and that
both he and the CEO at the time, William Pike, promised her
editorial independence, an assurance that she said had been kept
until April of this year. De Temmerman pointed to the paper's
reporting on the proposed government sale of the sacred Mabira
Forest, the Global Alliance Vaccine Initiative (GAVI) funds
corruption scandal, and its criticism of Ugandan military deployment
to Somalia as evidence of previous editorial independence.

5. (SBU) De Temmerman, who has had a longstanding close
professional relationship with Museveni, said that he told her
recently that the paper had improved under her leadership. Given
this, she wondered if the criticism of lack of government coverage
came from Museveni himself or one of his aides. Although she never
managed to reach Museveni to verify Kabushenga's claims prior to her
resignation, De Temmerman said that Museveni called her to say that
he "did not want an explanation" and "did not accept her
resignation." De Temmerman shared that she had been offered a
position with Nation Media Group in Kenya, but told Museveni that
she would rethink her resignation.

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De Temmerman: Extortion and Character Assassination Common
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6. (SBU) De Temmerman expressed deep concern over the state of
Ugandan journalism. "What is happening in the Ugandan press is pure
exploitation and fabrication," she commented. De Temmerman said
that journalists are often paid to write stories aimed at destroying
political rivals or advancing private economic agendas. She pointed
to coverage of the recent National Social Security Fund's
questionable purchase of land belonging to Security Minister Amama
Mbabazi and approved by Finance Minister Ezra Suruma (reftel). She
said that a "considerable amount of money" exchanged hands as
Parliament's probe moved forward and that a number of her
journalists had been offered bribes to "hit Mbabazi hard."


KAMPALA 00001524 002 OF 002


7. (SBU) "The Red Pepper is 90 percent fabricated," De Temmerman
affirmed (Note: The Red Pepper is a salacious tabloid that is used
by the government and private individuals to malign enemies. End
note.). She expressed concern that the paper's readership was
rising and that some Ugandans might actually mistake it for factual
journalism. De Temmerman said that the editors, some of whom had
been fired from The New Vision for corruption, had a "kill story
list" of individuals who paid the Red Pepper not to run damaging
stories each month. She noted that the paper is actually bankrupt,
but that the editors make their real profits through extortion. On
The New Vision's principle rival, the Daily Monitor, De Temmerman
said that it had historically been balanced and is a good paper.
However, she noted that the paper had serious accuracy problems with
some stories.

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De Temmerman: Formal Journalism Training Lacking
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8. (SBU) At the heart of the problem, De Temmerman explained, is
the lack of formal journalism training to teach Ugandans how to
write a story or maintain journalistic integrity. De Temmerman said
that proper journalism education was needed to "bring sanity" to
Uganda's media. She commented that a journalist should not be
allowed to work unless minimum pre-determined standards are met. De
Temmerman said that while it was inappropriate for the government to
regulate the media, some self-regulation is needed, possibly through
a regional body. She stressed the need to increase journalists'
exposure and access to information, perhaps through the internet.
"The level of training really is rather basic, making it difficult
to get a story that makes sense," De Temmerman explained.

-------
Comment
-------

9. (SBU) We will watch De Temmerman's next moves closely. We
expect that if she stays, her concerns will grow as The New Vision
and its allied television and radio stations are used to promote
Museveni's re-election. We share her concerns about the lack of
professionalism and quality of reporting. However, it may have less
to do with training and more to do with expectations - or lack
thereof - displayed by the editors, owners, and readers of Ugandan
media. A substantial percentage of Ugandan reporters have degrees
from Ugandan or foreign journalism schools or at least have
participated in donor-funded training programs. Unfortunately, a
highly polarized environment where readers expect the state-owned
outlets to support government policies and privately-owned media
houses to push an opposition agenda, does not encourage the
development of objective reporting.

10. (SBU) Low salaries for entry-level journalists lead many to
enter journalism for a limited period of time before moving on to
better paying jobs in public relations or other fields. The result
is that although most of the managing editors, feature editors, and
some senior writers are skilled, no pool of qualified mid-and
lower-level reporters develops. Moreover, the lack of financial
support for background research and fact checking forces most
reporters to write shallow stories based on current events and
single sources. Internet access at most media houses is limited.
Reference books and libraries are limited or non-existent.
Additionally, many of the newspapers lack comprehensive story
archives making it difficult for reporters to build on previous
reporting.
BROWNING

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