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Cablegate: Official Informal

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

101412Z Nov 05





E.O. 12958

1. (SBU) I am writing regarding the terrific program that VOA is
broadcasting in Zimbabwe under the Studio 7 brand. The program
is among our best tools for promoting free expression in a
country where supporters of democracy battle daily to defend
democratic principles. It provides objective news and other
information to Zimbabweans, most of whom only have access to the
propaganda churned out by the state-controlled media. A recent
nationwide survey, conducted by a Zimbabwean firm affiliated with
the Gallup Polling Group, determined that some 300,000
Zimbabweans listen to the program daily, greatly exceeding our
initial expectations. Credit for this success goes to the
exceptional work of your Zimbabwean and American staff in
Washington, and the courageous Studio 7 reporters on the ground

2. (SBU) Based on our on-the-ground experience and the recent
survey data, we have made a number of recommendations over the
past year to make the program even better and more accessible to
the general public. These included reducing coverage of non-
Zimbabwe news, expanding broadcast time in native languages,
reducing the amount of music, and receiving listener feedback. I
am pleased that discussions between staff in Harare and VOA
ultimately resulted in many of them being adopted. Given the
quickly evolving nature of Zimbabwe's political and social
environment, it is important that these kinds of discussions
continue and that we remain open to dialogue about how Studio 7
can adapt over time to be relevant and effective.

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3. (SBU) The survey revealed a number of additional
opportunities of which we can take advantage to keep the program
fresh and relevant. I urge the Studio 7 management to work
closely with my team at USAID/Zimbabwe to address these
opportunities. I understand that VOA recently completed its own
listenership survey of Studio 7. It would be useful for us to
see the survey's results and jointly discuss its implications for
programming. Listed below are some of the opportunities we have
identified regarding Studio 7.

-- Flexible Programming. Zimbabwe is a high profile,
politically complex country, with the terrain changing quickly
and often. For the program to remain relevant and cutting edge,
it is critical that it remains flexible and adjusts accordingly.
In this context, specific programming ideas we have suggested
recently include regular reporting on HIV/AIDS, civic education,
person-on-the-street interviews, and a routine spot on
producer/commodity prices. While some initial steps have been
taken, it would be useful to learn what plans VOA management has
to broadcast these types of stories and the timeframe envisioned.

-- Promotion. Getting the word out about Studio 7 has been a
constraint due to a tight budget situation. However, there is
enormous potential for expanding the listener base, as the survey
pointed out that 49% of Zimbabwe's general population has never
even heard of the program. To address the issue, we have assumed
responsibility for advertising from Zimbabwe. Yet, tie-ins to
this promotional effort through on-the-air promotions and
listener feedback are necessary and we are seeking proactive
inputs from VOA management. We will shortly be doing an SMS
advertising campaign and are actively seeking VOA input. It
would be particularly useful if VOA identified a point person for
USAID to work with on promotional activities.

-- Rural Coverage. Reaching rural Zimbabweans who are isolated
from the international media was our initial impetus for asking
VOA to create Studio 7. A key means of attracting rural
listeners is providing coverage from rural areas. VOA agreed to
increase stringer compensation for rural stories months ago to
compensate for the additional travel costs, but this appears not
to have happened. We would appreciate support from VOA
management in implementing an appropriate compensation package to
ensure that stringers have an incentive to file rural stories.

-- Compensation. Adequate compensation for local stringers is a
concern, given hyper-inflation, lack of fuel and related
transport problems. As you may know, Zimbabwe has the unenviable
status of having perhaps the world's highest inflation,
exacerbated by a government-controlled foreign exchange system,
so costs in Zimbabwe are disproportionate to what VOA experiences
in other countries. As has been discussed among our respective
staff's, an informal survey should be undertaken as soon as
possible to ensure that payment is competitive. As you can
imagine, compensation issues have the potential to affect morale
and, ultimately, staff performance.

-- Editorials. Given the GOZ's disinformation campaigns
concerning US policy, VOA editorials play an important role in
clarifying our position. It is important that we maintain the
good collaboration we have enjoyed on preparing VOA editorials to
ensure that they: a) focus on facts; and b) highlight
perpetrators of abuse. We especially encourage stories on
symptoms and anecdotes of the country's economic decline and
mismanagement, which resonate especially strongly here.

-- Communication. Our local and American staff in the Embassy
and USAID are involved in monitoring the democratic process in
Zimbabwe on a daily basis and, thus, have solid insights into the
pulse of the general population. Therefore, it would be useful
for them to have periodic, i.e. quarterly, telephone discussions
with the Studio 7 Washington-based staff and reporters. This
would allow both groups to share insights about Zimbabwe's
dynamic environment. The purpose, of course, would neither be to
direct stories nor to provide any editorial oversight, but simply
to enrich our mutual understanding of this complex country.
Given the rapidly evolving political developments, these insights
would serve to improve programming and that is our joint goal.
4. (SBU) I am confident that we can build on the great success
Studio 7 has had to date to create a program that adapts quickly
and is consistently relevant to Zimbabwe's evolving situation. I
stand ready to work with the BBG to implement the points
mentioned above along with my staff at the Embassy and the
USAID/Zimbabwe staff. Through our combined efforts, we can
continue improving the quality of Studio 7, greatly expand the
listenership and have an even greater effect in promoting change
in Zimbabwe. I will be in Washington next week and look forward
to meeting with you and hearing your thoughts.


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