Cablegate: Oman: Dim Prospects for Radio Sawa

DE RUEHMS #1037/01 3271151
R 231150Z NOV 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L SECTION 01 OF 02 MUSCAT 001037


E.O. 12958: DECL: 2019/11/22

CLASSIFIED BY: Richard J. Schmierer, Ambassador; REASON: 1.4(B), (D)

1. (C) SUMMARY: In recent months, Embassy Muscat has worked, in
formal meetings and behind the scenes, to discern current Omani
thinking on the possibility of Radio Sawa being permitted to
broadcast on the Sultanate´s FM spectrum. Most recently, the
Ambassador´s first call on the Minister of Information provided
what is likely as decisive (albeit not encouraging) a response as
will be given. END SUMMARY.

2. (C) Oman´s radio scene consists of four government-owned
stations, one in English and three in Arabic, alongside two private
Arabic stations and one in English. The slow development of radio
is part and parcel of the Sultanate´s highly cautious and
thoroughly controlled approach to media and information in general.
Radio Sawa was first raised as a possibility for Oman as early as
2002. Strategizing within the Embassy and with Washington at that
time indicated that efforts were best directed toward cooperation
with a private partner, a decision meant to clarify the station´s
status as an editorially independent entity as well as to take
advantage of impending broadcast liberalization (measures which
seemed imminent as early as 2003, but which did not come into
effect until 2007). Since then, the private partner with which the
BBG were working moved forward optimistically, even stating within
the past year that Omani authorities were nearly ready to complete
an agreement to license Sawa for FM broadcasting - a situation
sharply at odds with all signs observed from within the

3. (C) A renewed series of working-level and unofficial exchanges
with Ministry of Information staff starting earlier this year began
to clarify the Omani position. The private option pursued to that
time, sources opined, was - whatever encouragement previously given
to the private partner involved - unworkable, given the Ministry´s
interpretation of the part of the broadcast law that prohibits
foreign ownership of the media. Sawa would also challenge the
Omani practice of strictly separating Arabic and English content
(which prevents Arabic-language stations from broadcasting Western
pop music and even makes it impossible for English-language
stations to host Arabic-speaking guests whose remarks are
translated on air). The example of the BBC World Service should
not be considered a precedent, they added, because arrangements in
some form with the BBC are of such long standing as to predate not
only current broadcast laws but the current reign and are therefore
considered unique. (NOTE: The BBC broadcasts from a medium-wave
transmitter on land obtained via long-term lease. This allows the
World Service to transmit on a limited basis on local AM, with
programming in English, Tagalog, and other languages as well as
Arabic. The weakness of the signal, combined with the infrequent
and inconveniently timed Arabic service, gives the World Service a
miniscule local audience. END NOTE)

4. (C) During his introductory call on Minister of Information
Hamad bin Mohammed al-Rashdi in late October, the Ambassador raised
the question of Radio Sawa, an issue with which the Minister was
clearly familiar. Speaking as frankly as Omani hospitality
permits, the Minister made it clear that it was unlikely that Sawa
would find a way to broadcast in Oman. However, he noted, the
chief concern is not content, but precedent: that once one
nation´s station was on the air, Oman´s rigorously equitable
foreign policy would require that similar requests from others be
granted. He added that any decision regarding Sawa was one that
would involve not just the Ministry, but consent from "across the
government," an indication of royal and security concerns on the
issue. Asked whether he would find it useful to meet with BBG
leadership or Sawa staff to discuss what way forward might still be
possible, he replied with an open-ended "Well, they could come...",
the unspoken half of which began with a definite "but."

5. (C) COMMENT: The Minister´s comments on precedent undoubtedly
explain at least in part Oman´s reluctance to continue discussing
Radio Sawa, squarely with the Sultanate´s strong and consistent
efforts to combat extremism. Indeed, what concerns Oman is not
specifically Radio Sawa, but the prospect of having to host
stations from Iran, Saudi Arabia, or other "brotherly nations," the
content of which could prove considerably less palatable than
Sawa´s. In tandem with Oman´s pervasive interest in controlling,
wherever possible, the information available to Omani citizens
(which continues to hamper the future development of private radio
in general), these concerns likely render further attempts to find
a broadcast home for Radio Sawa in Oman ineffectual for the
foreseeable future. END COMMENT.

© Scoop Media

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