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Cablegate: 2006 Report Shows More Obstacles to Press Freeedom in Dr

VZCZCXRO5633
OO RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHGI RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHKI #1933/01 3621431
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 281431Z DEC 06
FM AMEMBASSY KINSHASA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 5357
INFO RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE
RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AFRICAN DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE
RUFOADA/JAC MOLESWORTH RAF MOLESWORTH UK
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KINSHASA 001933

SIPDIS

SIPDIS
SENSITIVE

E.O.12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM CG KDEM KPAO
SUBJECT: 2006 REPORT SHOWS MORE OBSTACLES TO PRESS FREEEDOM IN DR
CONGO

Ref: A) 05 Kinshasa 2024, B) Kinshasa 1105,

C) Kinshasa 270, D) Kinshasa 441, E) Kinshasa 1786

Sensitive But Unclassified. Not for Internet distribution.

1. (SBU) Summary: The raw statistics of JED's annual report for the
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) show a quantitative increase in
violations of press freedom in 2006. Bitterly fought elections, the
DRC's first in two generations, and corrupt practices by underpaid
journalists could well account for an apparent increase in press
intimidation. Unfortunately, Reporters Without Borders directly
reflects JED's raw data in a report which ranks the DRC very low in
press freedom. In fact, the opposite could be argued; namely, that
run-ins with Congolese authorities and other political forces are
proof of media dynamism, even freedom, in the DRC. End Summary

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2. (U) As it has done for nine years, the press-freedom watchdog
Journaliste en Danger (JED) on December 11 issued its annual report
on press freedom in the DRC. According to JED president Donat Mbaya
Tshimanga, a simultaneous presentation was made in Bujumbura of

SIPDIS
JED's report for all of Central Africa. As in past years, the
Embassy, through a PD grant, helped fund the cost of printing the
report.

Still Worse in the DRC, Says JED
--------------------------------

3. (SBU) In summary terms, JED counted 125 violations of press
freedom in the DRC in 2006, versus 106 in 2005 and 66 in 2004 (ref
A). Forty-three percent of the violations took place in Kinshasa,
about the same percentage as in 2005. (Note: The capital Kinshasa
has 44 television stations, 28 FM radio stations, and over 20
regularly-published newspapers.) Other hot spots for journalists in
2006, according to Mbaya Tshimanga, were Katanga and the Western and
Eastern Kasais. (Comment: We can attest anecdotally to the latter.
PAO was with a VOA reporter in Mbuji Mayi, capital of Eastern Kasai,
on July 23 when a stone thrown at them hit the journalist in the
face. This happened during a melee which ensued in the wake of
President Kabila's cortege into the city that day. This incident did
not make mention in the JED report. End Comment)

4. (U) Violations of press freedom included nine categories ranging
from assassination, disappearance or incarceration of journalists,
to aggression, threats and censorship. Categories which saw
substantial increases in violations were aggression (25 cases this
year vs. 8 last year) and threats (28 vs. 11). There was a marked
decrease in the number of journalists detained for fewer than 24
hours (16 this year vs. 41 last year).

5. (U) JED also counted two journalists killed in 2006, versus one
(Franck Ngyke Kangundu, whose wife was also killed) in 2005.
Freelance writer Bapuwa Mwamba (ref B) was one victim. His accused
assassins, AWOL soldiers, are still awaiting military trial
reportedly for lack of legal representation. The second
"journalist" was a technician found dead after saboteurs attacked
Jean-Pierre Bemba's CCTV satellite relay station near Lubumbashi in
March 2006.

There Ought to Be a Law
-----------------------

6. (U) In his comments at the unveiling of the report, JED President
Mbaya Tshimanga attributed most of the violations of press freedom
to the highly-charged political environment of 2006, which saw
presidential and legislative elections in July and October, the
DRC's first democratically-contested elections in more than 40
years. Tshimanga said he could understand that most private media
are controlled by politicians seeking coverage for themselves, since
state media (RTNC) tended to favor the incumbent ruling (PPRD) party
of Joseph Kabila. Tshimanga encouraged more debate on politicians'
control of so much media.

7. (U) The JED president noted that the High Media Authority (HAM),
charged with sanctioning media excesses, did a respectable job at
going after what he called "pyromaniac" journalism. Tshimanga
criticized the HAM, however, for making judgments about truth in
reporting, which he said should be a matter for courts or the
profession itself to decide. Unfortunately, he noted, the
journalistic profession did not regulate itself sufficiently.

8. (U) Addressing the ubiquitous corrupt practice of selling stories
or editorial bias (known as "coupage"), Tshimanga said 80 percent of
practicing journalists do not have contracts and must often depend
on such underhanded practices to survive. Most journalists are not
members of any press union, he added, and there has never been an

KINSHASA 00001933 002 OF 002


organized strike in the profession.

9. (U) Tshimanga made two recommendations for new legislation. The
first, he said, should be a law to decriminalize defamation.
Accusations of slander get reporters detained, or worse, more often
than any other offense. They also insidiously foster
self-censorship. Secondly, Tshimanga said there should be a law on
public information - something akin to our FOIA - mandating more
transparency and ultimately providing journalists with more access.

Recognition for JED
-------------------

10. (U) A jury of 30 journalists assembled by Reporters Without
Borders (RSF) awarded JED a prize for defending freedom of the
press, which is reportedly only the second time an African
organization has been so honored. According to Leonard Vincent, the
head of the Africa branch of RSF, JED demonstrated courage and
clarity where media outlets are many, partisan and largely
undisciplined, and in a country rife with corruption and impunity.
RSF also praises JED for keeping the November 2005 murders of
journalist Franck Ngyke Kangundu and his wife in the spotlight (ref
C and D).

Comment: Better to Dare Than Not
--------------------------------

11. (SBU) While JED is indeed to be congratulated for its tenacity
and dedication to blowing the whistle on press intimidation, the
organization can go off on tangents, as when it publicly contended
that then Interior Minister Theophile Mbemba was behind the Kangundu
murders, a thesis JED has since dropped.

12. (SBU) JED also can get carried away with its raw statistics,
such as those which purport to show a steadily worsening environment
for press freedom in the DRC, a refrain then picked up by RSF, which
placed the DRC in 142nd place in press freedom in the world (ref E).
This is misleading. It is precisely the vibrancy of the DRC's very
dense media environment - and, admittedly, its drive to go to press
in a very competitive environment, hobbled by lack of adequate
access to information - which causes the media to rankle and
sometimes provoke repressive reactions. Better that, however
unfortunate, than muzzled, state-controlled media.
DOUGHERTY

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