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Cablegate: Rrt Erbil: Journalists Give New Krg Media Law a Tentative

VZCZCXRO8586
PP RUEHBC RUEHDA RUEHDE RUEHIHL RUEHKUK
DE RUEHGB #3210/01 2790248
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 050248Z OCT 08
FM AMEMBASSY BAGHDAD
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9792
INFO RUCNRAQ/IRAQ COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/HQ USCENTCOM MACDILL AFB FL
RHMFISS/HQ USEUCOM VAIHINGEN GE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 BAGHDAD 003210

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM PGOV KDEM SOCI IZ
SUBJECT: RRT ERBIL: JOURNALISTS GIVE NEW KRG MEDIA LAW A TENTATIVE
THUMBS-UP

REFTEL: Baghdad 2815

FOR USG ONLY. NOT FOR INTERNET DISRIBUTION.

This is a Regional Reconstruction Team (RRT) Erbil cable.

1. (SBU) Summary: Key independent media editors in the Kurdistan
Region have cautiously welcomed passage September 22 of a new KRG
Press Law, with one veteran editor characterizing it as "80 percent
good." Our interlocutors were pleased with revisions in the law
that cap defamation fines, prohibit the closure of media outlets,
and provide some clarity to previously vague language banning
disclosure of national security information. The editors we spoke
with were still worried that they could face the KRG's wrath for
publishing stories on, for example, home-grown terrorist threats
such as Ansar al-Islam, and complained that media outlets could
still be suspended. All of our contacts were distressed by the tone
of a recent meeting between KRG President Masoud Barzani and key
Kurdish media leaders in which Barzani said the press could
criticize the KRG -- but only with approval from "the proper
authorities." End summary.

Independent Media Editors on KRG Press Law
-------------------------------------------

2. (U) Over the past week, RRT Erbil has polled editors at the
Kurdistan Region's handful of independent media outlets for their
reactions to the Kurdistan National Assembly's (KNA) September 22
passage of a new Press Law. Our interlocutors included Lvin
Magazine Chief Editor Ahmad Mira, Rozhnama Chief Editor Adnan Osman,
Hawlati Chief Editor Abid Arif, Hawlati Publisher Tareq Hasan, and
Awene Chief Editor Shwan Mohammed.

The Verdict: "80 Percent Good"...
----------------------------------

3. (SBU) Our contacts all agreed that the version passed by the KNA
was an improvement over the previous bill, which was vetoed by
President Barzani following public criticism. Echoing the views of
his colleagues, Lvin's Ahmad Mira characterized the new law as "80
percent good." In particular, the editors noted that the revised
version reduced the amount of money that journalists and media
outlets can be fined for defamation. (The maximum fine for
journalists is now set at 5 million dinar, or approximately $4100,
and the maximum fine for media outlets is 10 million dinar, or
approximately $8200.) It also prohibits the closure of media
outlets and provides some clarity on what constitutes "national
security information" that cannot be published or broadcast.

...But That Other 20 Percent Still Worrisome
--------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) Lvin's Mira said the national security information
provision of the new law remained "too vague." For example, he said
he would have to think carefully about publishing anything about
Ansar al-Islam. "I'm afraid that if we write about Ansar, we're
going to get sued," he explained. Hawlati's Abid Arif and Tareq
Hasan -- who has done jail time in retaliation for Hawlati's
muckraking
-- complained that the new law allows for the temporary suspension
of media outlets. Such a suspension "would kill us," they asserted.


The Other Shoe
--------------

5. (SBU) All of our interlocutors were distressed by the tone of a
September 28 meeting that KRG President Barzani held with key
Kurdistan Region media leaders. Noting that he had not yet actually
signed the new Press Law, Barzani warned that while the press is
part of the democratic process, reporters should "concern themselves
with subjects they know about;" the press is free to criticize the
KRG, but such criticism must be cleared with the proper authorities,
he said. Barzani also chastised the media for creating what he
called a "culture of losing self-confidence" and delivered a
pep-talk about the proper role of the Kurdish-language press in
helping defeat "enemy plans" to destroy the Kurdistan Region's
achievements.

Comment
-------

6. (SBU) From what we've heard, passage of the new Press Law and
the positive revisions were due to personal lobbying by KNA Speaker
Adnan Mufti, Deputy Speaker Kamal Kirkuki, and KRG Culture Minister
Falakadeen Kakayee, who was present for the vote despite serious
health issues that have hobbled him for most of the year. The three
share a relatively progressive view about the role of the

BAGHDAD 00003210 002 OF 002


independent media in the Kurdistan Region. Rozhnama's Adnan Osman
singled out Mufti and Kakayee in particular, writing in an editorial
that "no one should forget their role in this success." Deputy
Speaker Kirkuki privately emphasized to us that, while not perfect,
the new law is an "improvement" designed to "tackle the legal
impediments" to the development of a genuinely free press in the
Kurdistan Region. This positive movement on an important KRG
governance issue comes in the wake of efforts by RRT and Embassy
Baghdad, and Ambassador Krajeski in particular, to press senior
Kurdish officials to respect press freedoms.

CROCKER

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