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Cablegate: Press Freedom in Kivus Faces Serious Challenges

VZCZCXRO8729
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHGI RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHKI #1097/01 3510850
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 170850Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY KINSHASA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0439
INFO RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE
RUCNSAD/SADC COLLECTIVE
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RHEFDIA/DIA WASHDC
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 1318
RUEHBS/AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS 2979
RUEHBZ/AMEMBASSY BRAZZAVILLE 0172

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KINSHASA 001097

SENSITIVE

SIPDIS

STATE FOR AF, NSC

E.O.12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV KPAO PREL PHUM KDEM CG
SUBJECT: PRESS FREEDOM IN KIVUS FACES SERIOUS CHALLENGES

REF: KINSHASA 1044

KINSHASA 00001097 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: Journalists and local radio media outlets in the
Kivus told visiting assistant public affairs officer (APAO) they
continue to receive threats, and they suspect harassment will
continue in the lead-up to the 2011 local elections. The unclear
future of Radio Okapi, coupled with continued resource constraints
for local press agencies, compound the difficulties for media
outlets in the Kivus. End summary.


Threats, harassment in Bukavu continue
--------------------------------------


2. (SBU) Threats and harassment in Bukavu continue despite recent
assurances by Communications Minister Lambert Mende to donors that
the Government of Democratic Republic of Congo (GDRC) was committed
to preserving the security of the Congolese press (see reftel).
During meetings with APAO in Bukavu on December 8-9, journalists
from local media outlets Radio Mandeleo, Radio Maria, and Radio
Kaoza (which broadcasts Voice of America in South Kivu) indicated
that journalists continue to fear for their safety. Radio Mandeleo
journalists often receive death threats from anonymous callers. The
Congolese Union of Press Journalists (UNPC), of which most Bukavu
journalists are members, has encouraged journalists to follow
specific security precautions when walking at night. They are also
establishing a "safe house" for journalists to use if they are
required to work into the evening. According to Bukavu journalists,
UNPC efforts to engage the South Kivu authorities have produces
meager results. Radio Maria (which is run by the Catholic Church in
Bukavu) bureau chiefs speculated that the murders of a Catholic
priest and two nuns in the past week were aimed at Radio Maria,
which had transmitted critical reports of the Kimia II operations.
Most journalists believed the harassment and threats would continue
until the upcoming 2011 local and national elections, so as to
minimize critical reporting of political actors.

3. (SBU) A further complication is the clear indication of impunity
for those accused of killing journalists. Radio Mandeleo
journalists opined that the limited judicial review of the cases of
slain Radio Okapi journalists Serge Mahesha and Didace Namujimbo
(killed in Bukavu in 2008) reflect an inability by the GDRC
provincial authorities to prosecute these cases. In the case of
Mahesha, the primary suspect supposedly "disappeared" while being
detained at a local police facility. As one journalist noted, "If
the Government cannot try suspects, how can they actually protect
journalists?"

Other challenges, some with dangerous consequences
--------------------------------------------- -----

4. (SBU) Despite the dangerous environment, the Bukavu media
continue to face financial constraints. While Radio Madeleo is
supported by donors, other radio stations operate on a limited
budget to maintain their offices and equipment. In addition, annual
taxes imposed on media outlets by the provincial government (which
can often be as high as $30,000 annually) impose financial duress on
media outlets. As a result, many agencies rely on financial backing
from political actors, who often use the media as mouthpieces to
promote their political agenda and generate popularity.

5. (SBU) One potentially harmful consequence of political backing
is hateful messages directed at specific ethnic groups to garner
Qis hateful messages directed at specific ethnic groups to garner
popular support. Goma and Bukavu representatives of the human
rights group Journalists in Danger (JED) and the Network of Eastern
Congo Radio and Television Outlets (RATECO) highlighted at least
three cases since October of community radio stations in the Kivus
(at the instruction of political leaders) broadcasting
anti-Rwandaphone rhetoric to generate popular support. In Butembo,
JED called upon the media station to cease its broadcasts. While
initially successful, the broadcast has intermittently broadcasted
anti-Rwandaphone messages.

Press safer in Goma, but same constraints apply
--------------------------------------------- --

6. (SBU) Unlike press representatives in Bukavu, Goma journalists
operate in a more secure environment. Journalists in both cities
gave two reasons for this difference. First, press in Bukavu tends
to be more openly critical than press in Goma. Bukavu has
historically been the center of the intelligentsia in the Kivus

KINSHASA 00001097 002.2 OF 002


while the press in Goma was heavily censored during the RCD's
presence in Goma in the late 1990s. As a result, Bukavu media
outlets are more accustomed to open and critical reporting. Second,
journalists argue the provincial government in North Kivu affords
more protection to journalists than in South Kivu (although some
Goma journalists still criticize the provisional government's
ability to maintain that protection).

7. (SBU) Nevertheless, journalists in Goma still face the same
financial challenges as their counterparts in Bukavu. Provincial
taxes and fees burden many of the local media outlets.
Representatives from the GDRC-supported Congolese National Radio and
Television (RTNC) asserted that even the Congolese government has
failed to provide the Goma station with the necessary resources to
continue regular broadcasts.

Okapi's future impacts press outlook in east
-------------------------------------------

8. (SBU) Radio Okapi Bukavu bureau chief Florien Barbey and MONUC
Public Information Officer Jacqueline Chenard informed APAO on
December 8 that while Okapi may not be the most popular radio outlet
in the Kivus, it is considered the most credible, offering local
media organizations in the Kivus a model for independent journalism.
However, Okapi's future is uncertain, as its existence is tied to
the presence of MONUC. This concern, coupled with concerns about
the security of journalists, raises the possibility that Okapi's
role in the Kivus will be marginalized.

9. (SBU) Barbey indicated that a number of alternative models are
being discussed to continue Okapi's operations in eastern Congo if
MONUC draws down. One is to transfer oversight and equipment to the
United Nations Development Program (UNDP) or RTNC. The latter
option would potentially impact Okapi's integrity, given RTNC's
affiliation to the GDRC. Another option is to maintain the antennas
in the Kivus, and continue regional broadcasting from a remote
location outside the region. In this scenario, however, Barbery
admitted Okapi's product would suffer without logistical support
currently provided by MONUC. More importantly, the lack of a MONUC
presence would undoubtedly leave journalists exposed.

10. (SBU) Comment: While press freedom is a concern throughout the
DRC, Bukavu is particularly affected, and remains a dangerous
environment for an independent press. The questionable future of
Radio Okapi does not bode well for improvements in conditions for
the region's media. As we look to assist in the development of the
Kivus and facilitate the resolution of ongoing conflicts, the
international community cannot ignore the needs of the press in
eastern Congo. We will continue to work with donors and the GDRC to
coordinate efforts to support an independent media in the Kivus.
End comment.

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