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Cablegate: New Draft of Afghan Media Law Smacks Of

VZCZCXRO7604
RR RUEHDBU RUEHIK RUEHYG
DE RUEHBUL #5700/01 3400906
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 060906Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY KABUL
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 4461
INFO RUCNAFG/AFGHANISTAN COLLECTIVE
RUEHZG/NATO EU COLLECTIVE
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 2957
RUEKJCS/OSD WASHINGTON DC
RUEKJCS/JOINT STAFF WASHINGTON DC
RHMFIUU/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK 3352
RHEHAAA/NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL WASHINGTON DC
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHINGTON DC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 04 KABUL 005700

SIPDIS

DEPARTMENT FOR SCA/FO DAS GASTRIGHT, SCA/A
STATE PASS TO USAID FOR AID/ANE, AID/DCHA/DG
NSC FOR HARRIMAN
OSD FOR KIMMITT
CENTCOM FOR CG CFC-A, CG CJTF-76 POLAD
EMBASSY PARIS PASS TO USMISSION TO UNESCO

SENSITIVE, SIPDIS


E.O. 12958 N/A
TAGS: MCAP MOPS PREL PGOV PTER PHUM AF
SUBJECT: NEW DRAFT OF AFGHAN MEDIA LAW SMACKS OF
GOVERNMENT CONTROL

-------
Summary
-------

1. (SBU) The Afghan Parliament's Committee on
Religious and Cultural Affairs has circulated draft
language amending the Afghan Mass Media Law (Media
Law) - adopted by Presidential Decree in 2005 but
never approved by Parliament - that troubles many in
the Afghan media and international community. The new
draft reflects increasing support within the GOA and
Parliament for greater restrictions placed on media
content and an overall climate of potential government
intimidation and media self-censorship. Worrisome
elements within the latest draft include: language
that seeks to keep Radio-Television Afghanistan under
the rubric of the GOA, rather than converting it to
independent Public Service Broadcasting; the
elimination of three committees that protected
journalists from politically-motivated reprisals; and
the designation of certain categories of content as
"prohibited". Proponents of greater government
control of the Afghan media point to its vulnerability
to Taliban manipulation for spreading anti-government
propaganda and recent broadcasts - especially of music
and dance - that run counter to conservative cultural
values in Afghanistan. There is some agreement among
the international community that the Afghan media has
acted irresponsibly, especially with regard to fact
checking; but most advocates of independent media
stress the need to distinguish between a free, yet
regulated independent media and one controlled by the
government. End summary.

--------------------------------------------- -------
GOA Elements Put Forward More Conservative Media Law
--------------------------------------------- -------

2. (SBU) The Afghan Mass Media Law (Media Law) was
originally adopted in December 2005 by Presidential
Decree but has yet to be approved by the Wolesi Jirga
(WJ), lower house of Parliament. That version of the
Media Law was considered a reasonably moderate,
progressive document that sought to develop a
regulatory environment for a free, healthy media.
Sometime over the last two months, however, a new
version (herein referred to as the November 2006
version) of the Media Law was drafted and circulated
around the Afghan Parliament. It is believed that the
Minister of Information and Culture, Abdul Kharim
Khuram, and the Parliament's Commission on Religious
and Cultural Affairs, led by Haji Mohammad Mohaqqeq,
are behind the new draft.

3. (SBU) It is unclear whether President Karzai is
somehow connected to efforts to circulate the November
2006 draft. Contacts within the international
community have heard that the newest version was
drafted on behalf of the GOA and that the GOA has
pressured members of Parliament to present it as their
own idea, rather than that of the GOA. There were
rumors that those behind the November 2006 draft
sought to push that version through Parliament before
the December 6 start of Parliamentary recess.
Lobbyists from the local journalist community met with
Wolesi Jirga (WJ) Speaker, Younis Qanooni, who gave
assurances that the Media Law would not be voted on
prior to the December Parliamentary recess.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
More Government Control; Less Protection for Reporters
--------------------------------------------- ---------


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4. (SBU) There are three main areas of concern
arising from the November 2006 draft Media Law: (1)
its determination that Public Service Broadcasting
(PSB) would essentially function under the GOA; (2)
its elimination of three independent commissions laid
out in the December 2005 draft that were designed to
ensure a degree of independence for media outlets and
protect journalists from reprisals by influential
politicians; (3) language that creates an overall
climate of government control and intimidation as well
as self-censorship of the media.

5. (SBU) Article 19 of the November 2006 draft
stipulates that "the National Radio and Television of
Afghanistan (RTA) is a mass media belonging to the
Afghan nation that functions within the structure of
Ministry of Information and Culture, and its programs,
except advertisements, shall be broadcasted free of
charge," essentially modeling RTA after a PSB network
- but one that is controlled by the GOA, not an
independent media outlet. EU countries are
particularly concerned about this addition to the
latest draft, as they had pledged several million
euros toward developing Radio-Television Afghanistan
(RTA) into an independent PSB network. They have
shared informally that such funding would be withdrawn
if RTA does in fact turn into a government-run media
outlet.

6. (SBU) Another point of contention is the
elimination of three commissions designed to protect
the independence of media outlets and protect
journalists from reprisals by influential politicians.
These include:

I. The Commission on Media Complaints and
Offenses - designed to be a mediating body
that evaluates complaints against media
outlets or specific journalists. The
commission would only refer a case to the
courts if it could not be effectively
mediated by this commission. It essentially
worked to protect media outlets and
journalists critical of the GOA from
reprisal by influential politicians.

II. RTA (Radio-Television Afghanistan)
Commission - Comprised of a religious
scholar, a lawyer, a professional engineer,
two professional journalists, two artists,
one national trader and one representative
of civil society, this commission promoted
the involvement of non-governmental
stakeholders in developing public radio and
TV outlets in Afghanistan. There was a
particular mandate to solicit international
assistance in the development of RTA.

III. Bakhtar News Agency - designed to oversee
the activities of the state run news agency
which had to report on content to the Media
High Council, another commission created in
the Media Law which would be chaired by the
Minister of Information and Culture.

7. (SBU) Lobbyists on behalf of independent media in
Afghanistan note another problem within the law on the
above-mentioned commission: a mandate that stipends
for members of the commissions be paid by the Ministry
of Information and Culture (MIC), rather than a
separate budget established by Parliament. Payment by
the MIC leaves members of the commission open to GOA
intimidation.


KABUL 00005700 003 OF 004


8. (SBU) Other elements of concern in the November
2006 draft work to create an overall climate of
government control and possible intimidation as well
as self-censorship of the media. These include the
designation of five additional categories of
"prohibited broadcasts" (the December 2005 draft had
four). These now include any material that: is
contrary to Islam; offensive to other religions and
sects; jeopardizes stability, national security or
territorial integrity (new); provides false
information that might disrupt public opinion (new);
publicizes or promotes any religion other than Islam
(new); damages the physical, psychological, or moral
well-being of the people, especially children and
youth (new); discloses the identity of victims of
violence and rape; is slanderous and insulting to
people (new); constitutes false accusations or
defamation. The law noticeably does not provide legal
definitions for the terms slander, libel, or
defamation, an omission which leaves journalists and
media outlets vulnerable to broad misuse of the terms
by anyone whom the media criticizes. Furthermore,
independent media proponents have noted the addition
of several lines indicating that public and private
media must either "respect" or "adjust its programs"
"in light of the principles and provisions of the holy
religion of Islam." Many in the media point out that
such clauses give the GOA broad grounds on which to
manipulate the law to influence and control media
content.

--------------------------------
International Community Response
--------------------------------

9. (SBU) To date, several members of the
international community have weighed in with the GOA
regarding their concerns about the November 2006
draft. On November 15, the European Union Special
Representative, accompanied by representatives of the
French, German and British Embassies, delivered a
joint demarche to Minister Khuram, seeking his support
for media reform. Minister Khuram reportedly feigned
a lack of influence and responded that he could not
control how Parliament votes. Internews (an
international advocacy NGO promoting independent
media) and UNESCO have secured the blessing of Wolesi
Jirga Speaker Qanooni to organize seminars educating
members of Parliament, lawyers and mullahs on the
value of free press. They are also considering
launching a public information campaign to explain the
concept of Public Service Broadcasting.

--------------------------------------------- ---------
Distinction: Government-controlled vs. Regulated Media
--------------------------------------------- ---------

10. (SBU) Increasingly, members of the GOA and
Parliament see the need for government control of the
Afghan media. They argue that (1) media outlets do
not employ comprehensive fact checking and are thus
manipulated by insurgents to disseminate propaganda;
(2) unrestricted media coverage of insurgency activity
encourages the Taliban; (3) private media outlets
(especially through broadcasts of music and dance) are
alienating a conservative population and giving
further fuel to insurgent propaganda. One particular
point of contention has been Tolo TV's decision to
broadcast performances by Latin pop sensation Shakira,
who is world renowned for her belly-dancing during
performances. (Note: Lobbyists on behalf of
independent media have convinced Tolo to stop airing
Shakira's performances at least until the Media Law
has been passed through Parliaments in hopes of

KABUL 00005700 004 OF 004


quenching some of the public ire against a media
viewed as being "too liberal." End note.)

11. (SBU) There is widespread acknowledgement among
the International Community that media outlets have
not been completely responsible with regard to fact
checking. Many agree on the need to help the Afghan
public and political leadership understand the
difference between a free media that operates within a
regulatory environment and one that is controlled by
the government.

12. (SBU) Both the Parliamentary Committee on
Religious and Cultural Affairs and President Karzai
invited members of the Afghan media on December 3 to
hear their concerns about the November 2006 draft of
the law; however, many journalists felt toyed with
after the Palace announced a meeting time on the
morning of the event that started just 30 minutes
after the Parliamentary meeting was scheduled, thus
making it logistically impossible for invitees to
attend both. This has fueled perceptions that the GOA
at its highest levels is in cahoots with the Committee
on Religious and Cultural Affairs to have this more
conservative draft passed into law. Journalists who
did attend the morning session with the Committee on
Religious and Cultural Affairs reported that the
committee seemed open to reinstating the Commission on
Media Complaints and Offenses but did not receive any
concrete feedback on their other concerns.

-----------
Post Action
-----------

13. (SBU) Post will weigh in with Minister of
Information and Culture Khuram and the Parliament's
Committee on Religious and Cultural Affairs to stress
the value of a free and independent - yet regulated -
Afghan media. Post will also continue consulting
contacts within the international community and GOA,
as well as Afghan media leaders, to assess how best to
influence President Karzai's stance on the issue.
Post will quietly press the GOA at its highest levels
to maintain protections for journalists in the draft
legislation and to create a regulatory environment for
a free, independent Afghan media.

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
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