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Cablegate: Bbg Representatives Discuss Radio Sawa With

This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 CAIRO 006210

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: DECL: 08/11/2015

TAGS: PREL PGOV KPAO OPRC EG BBG

SUBJECT: BBG REPRESENTATIVES DISCUSS RADIO SAWA WITH

INFORMATION MINISTER EL FEKKI

REF: CAIRO 5743

Classified by Charge Stuart Jones for reasons 1.4(b) and (d).

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Summary

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1. (C) During their meeting with Information Minister El Fekki and other broadcast officials, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) team headed by Executive Director Brian Conniff found no Egyptian willingness to find a quick solution that will enable Radio SAWA to build a broadcast tower in Egypt. In contrast to a more upbeat-sounding approach in his July 26 discussion with the Charge and PAO (reftel), the Minister -- as BBG Director Conniff put it -- seemed "unconcerned" by the prospect of $227 million being withheld from Egypt´s ESF if there is no progress towards a local SAWA FM broadcast. Both the Minister and his Deputy, whom the BBG group met later, stressed that a total overhaul of Broadcasting Law 13 is the only way forward for SAWA or any other non-GOE broadcasters. They admit that this process, which must wait for the November parliamentary elections and the subsequent legislative process, could take three to five years. Executive Director Conniff made his disappointment clear to the Minister and his Deputy and informed them that he would have to report this response to staffers working on the appropriations bill. If Egypt had to pay $227 million to uphold the integrity of its legal processes, so be it, was the Minister´s response. End Summary.

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No Hustling the Process, for SAWA or Anyone

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2. (SBU) During the Minister´s meeting and a later dinner with his Deputy, Hassan Abou Ella, the Egyptians stressed that they had nothing against SAWA, which they had monitored for months. But despite the Minister´s efforts to find a loophole, they and several predecessors over the past four years were unable to get around Law 13, which restricts FM broadcasting to ERTU-owned stations. The two FM stations which recently went on the air and are reported to be privately owned, actually have majority ERTU ownership, according to El Fekki. By linking SAWA to U.S. economic assistance, "you have turned this from a legal into a political problem," the Minister chided. He predicted a dramatically negative public reaction -- if the linkage became known -- that would set back his efforts through the GOE-owned radio and TV to improve the U.S. image.

3. Acting DCM and Conniff pressed the Minister on the fact that the U.S. had pursued numerous avenues with the GOE with three different Ministers of Information and we had made no progress. If Egyptians had no objection to the content of Radio SAWA, why was it so difficult to find a solution? The minister responded that amending the law was the only way to allow SAWA to be broadcast in Egypt and that would take time.

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Patience is Golden, even for Americans

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4. (C) El Fekki claimed that he was determined to change the law and create a more open media environment, allowing private TV and radio stations. This was already happening, he maintained, with some private participation in some of the Nile TV channels. After the presidential and parliamentary elections the GOE would introduce a new law enabling private ownership to the People´s Assembly. But no special deal could be worked out for SAWA. "You must be patient," Deputy Abou Ella told the BBG reps at a dinner hosted by the Charge. As an ex-BBC executive for 30 years who negotiated broadcast agreements with Jordan and Sudan, Abou Ella said he had been trying to get FM broadcast rights for the BBC for seven years without success, even though 25 per cent of their Arabic service comes from their Cairo studio.

5. (SBU) During the BBG team´s visit to October 6 Media City, the director of the government-owned broadcasting facility told the BBG that Media City was eager for a partnership with both SAWA and Al Hurra TV. But when Executive Director Conniff mentioned the idea of SAWA operating under GOE ownership, the Egyptian dismissed it as unworkable. ERTU stations might buy some foreign content to be plugged in here and there, but could not rebroadcast the whole program.

6. (SBU) Minister El Fekki said that "soon after the presidential elections" he would have a draft GOE policy paper outlining changes in the broadcast law that would include the issues of outside broadcasts, and he promised to share a copy with us when it was ready. Later, his Deputy commented that there was no guarantee that the new MPs would necessarily favor opening the airwaves to foreign broadcasters.

7. (C) Comment. Minister El Fekki, regarded as a reformer, was much less forthcoming during this visit than he had been during the July 26 meeting with the Charge and PAO. Intent on showing GOE offense over the linkage with U.S. economic assistance, his message was clear and leaves little room for compromise or maneuver to overcome the 1979 law and get SAWA on the air locally via FM. The Minister and his Deputy made it clear that as far as they are concerned, there is no hurrying the pace of Egypt´s domestically driven legal reform which will take time. End comment. Visit Embassy Cairo´s Classified Website: http://www.state.sgov.gov/p/nea/cairo

You can also access this site through the State Department´s Classified SIPRNET website.

JONES

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