Cablegate: Congolese Reporter's Take On Chinese News Agency's
RR RUEHBZ RUEHDU RUEHGI RUEHJO RUEHMR RUEHRN
DE RUEHKI #1164/01 3651118
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 311118Z DEC 09
FM AMEMBASSY KINSHASA
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0526
RUEHBJ/AMEMBASSY BEIJING 0149
INFO RUEHXR/RWANDA COLLECTIVE
RUCNSAD/SOUTHERN AF DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY
RUEHFR/AMEMBASSY PARIS 1336
RUEHBS/AMEMBASSY BRUSSELS 2991
RUEHBZ/AMEMBASSY BRAZZAVILLE 0186
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 KINSHASA 001164
STATE FOR INR, RRU, IIP/G/AF, IIP/T/GIC, AF, EAP, NSC
TAGS: KDEM KPAO OIIP OPRC PGOV PREL SCUL CG
SUBJECT: CONGOLESE REPORTER'S TAKE ON CHINESE NEWS AGENCY'S
JOURNALISM SEMINAR: "IT WAS A MARKETING CAMPAIGN"
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1. (SBU) Summary: A Congolese participant at a recent Chinese News
Agency (CNA) seminar for African journalists in Nairobi told us the
seminar was little more than a "marketing campaign" for CNA and the
Chinese government. According to our contact, a discussion between
CNA representatives and their guests on the issue of press freedom
illustrated how important human rights concerns, particularly
freedom of expression, are for African journalists, an issue CNA
seems to have little interest in. Genuine interest here in press
freedom is a problem for the Chinese but an opportunity for us to
exercise greater influence vis-a-vis the Congolese media. End
A "marketing campaign"
2. (SBU) Luc-Roger Mbala Bemba of the independent Congolese
newspaper L'Observateur (please protect) attended a seminar for
African journalists sponsored by CNA in Nairobi on December 20-21.
Bemba is an alumnus of a USG exchange program, as well as a stringer
for Xinhua, the Chinese wire service and CNA affiliate. Bemba spoke
at length to PDO shortly after his return from the seminar.
3. (SBU) Bemba described the CNA event as "a marketing campaign"
with the goal of selling the Chinese news agency, and the Beijing
government, to African journalists. A total of 17 African
journalists attended, from several different countries. The other
Congolese in attendance was the publishing director of "Le
Potentiel," an independent Kinshasa newspaper known for its populist
editorial positions, and its frequent criticism of Western nations
and international institutions.
Chinese reporting criticized
4. (SBU) According to Bemba, African journalists appreciated the
substantive portions of the seminar, although much of the activities
were geared toward promoting CNA's various activities on the
continent. Currently, there are 19 CNA bureaus in Africa, including
one in Kinshasa. A CNA official said the agency "is now the most
important news service for developing countries." While many of the
presentations were focused on selling the news agency (and China) to
the guests, CNA representatives were also eager to listen to the
African journalists, soliciting their opinions on the agency, and
China's presence in Africa. Several guests criticized CNA for
avoiding reports that might reflect badly upon China or its partners
in Africa. A CNA representative responded by saying, "We don't want
to report stories that make our friends look bad." Some African
journalists replied that by refusing to criticize those in power,
the agency was not fulfilling its responsibility.
5. (SBU) One African journalist tried to impress upon the
organizers the importance of credibility. "If you want to compete
on the international stage with the other news agencies," he said,
"you will have to ask tough questions. If not, no one will take you
seriously." The journalist cited other news agencies like AP, AFP
and Reuters, saying that their reputations as credible sources of
information have been earned over the years by asking the very
questions China News avoids. "A journalist has to ask questions,"
one African reporter said, "or else how will things ever change?"
Qone African reporter said, "or else how will things ever change?"
"Freedom is not for everyone"
6. (SBU) Following the formal seminar, a discussion on freedom of
expression took place. Bemba said the African journalists pressed
their Chinese hosts on the need for honest reporting, particularly
concerning political, economic and ecological scandals. Reporters
from Gabon and Cameroon described ecological damage by Chinese
companies in their countries, and how such news should not be
suppressed merely because it might reflect badly upon the Chinese
and their local partners. The African journalists said it was a
matter of conscience to report on such serious threats to the
well-being of their own communities.
7. (SBU) According to Bemba, the CNA representatives disagreed with
the journalists' assessment. "Freedom is a Western value," one of
the Chinese said, "it is not for everyone . . . There are one
billion Chinese; we cannot all be free. That's why we need an
ideology to tell us what is permitted, and what isn't." Several of
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the African journalists argued that freedom is not only a
fundamental human right, but also a desire felt by all living
things. One of them said, "If you take a lion and put him in a
cage, even if you feed him the best cuts of meat every day, the
first time you leave the cage open, he will escape. Even if it
means he might starve to death."
8. (SBU) Comment: Even accounting for the tendency of
interlocutors here to tell us what they think we want to hear, our
conversation with Luc-Roger Mbala Bemba points to a problem the
Chinese face when working with young African journalists, many of
whom are the products of a European-based educational system and who
strongly admire the principle of pess freedom, especially as
practiced in the Unitd States. It is points to an opportunity for
us to exercise greater influence vis-a-vis the local media. End
9. (U) Note: PAS Nairobi is not aware of coverage of the CAN event
in the Kenyan press. End note.