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Cablegate: New Congolese Press Law Signed but Not yet On the Books

DE RUEHKI #0086/01 0251557
R 251556Z JAN 10



E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: New Congolese press law signed but not yet on the books

1. (SBU) Summary: President Kabila signed a new law on December
31, 2009, regulating the media and press in the Democratic Republic
of the Congo (DRC). The law establishes a new media regulatory
body named the Conseil Sup????rieur de l'Audiovisuel et de la
Communication (Governing Council of Broadcasting and Communications
or CSAC), which will replace the transitional Haute Autorit???? des
Medias (Federal Media Authority or HAM). Since the law was signed,
it has not yet been published in the official gazette, and many in
journalism and civil society either do not know about the law, or
are unclear about its provisions. Some observers have expressed
concern that the majority coalition seeks to control the process of
nominating CSAC board members, and thereby manipulate the new law
to their advantage. End summary.

2. (U) A long-anticipated change to the government structure
regulating the media finally took place when President Kabila
signed a new law establishing CSAC, which replaces HAM (established
in 2003 by the transitional constitution). The HAM played an
important role in monitoring and sanctioning the media during the
2006 elections, registering more than 800 complaints of violation
of press laws or social norms, and establishing an ethics
commission to respond to irresponsible news reporting during that
period. The 2006 Constitution stipulated that a permanent media
regulatory body be established, which this new law does. PAS
Kinshasa spoke with a wide range of working journalists, officials
of media organizations, and civil society leaders. All were
satisfied with the law as written, but many expressed concerns that
the law might not be applied in a non-partisan and democratic

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"Guarantee freedom of press"


3. (U) According to the new law, CSAC's responsibilities are:
"guarantee the freedom and protection of the press as well as all
mass communications media according to the law; oversee the respect
of journalistic ethics; and oversee equal access to official
information and communications to political parties, organizations
and individuals." CSAC is responsible for monitoring the content
of media communications and sanctioning violations, while the
Government of the DRC (GDRC) maintains responsibility for
regulation and licensing. CSAC will have an advisory role
concerning any new laws regulating the media and communications

Governing Board makeup


4. (U) The new media regulatory commission will be governed by a
board of directors, consisting of 15 members, nominated in the
following fashion: one by the president; two by the national
assembly; two by the senate; one by the government (prime
minister); one by the Council of Magistrates; three by professional
media organizations; one from the advertising sector; one by the
national bar association; one by the national organization of
parents of students; and two by press freedom organizations. The
nominees from the national assembly and senate are to include one
each from the presidential majority and the opposition. The
nominees from the professional media organizations are to include
one representative from television, radio and the printed press.
Upon confirmation by the parliament, all board members are required
to refrain from any business, professional or political activities
that might present conflicts of interest.

Funding in doubt


5. (SBU) Board members are supposed to be remunerated for their

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work, and the organization is to be supported by government funds,
although some press observers express skepticism that funds will be
available for either salaries or operating expenses. The law
includes a provision for CSAC to solicit funds from outside
sources; officials from the press freedom NGO Journalists in Danger
(JED), among others, hope that international donors will contribute
to CSAC's budget, particularly during the elections. (Note: The
HAM recently approached PAS Kinshasa with a proposal for funding of
their media monitoring center, which was severely under-resourced.
With 82 television stations and 280 radio stations across the DRC,
effective monitoring is probably beyond the capacity of even a
robustly funded operation. End note.)

On the books, or off the record?


6. (SBU) While the law was signed on December 31, 2009 and read
aloud on GDRC television station RTNC on January 2, it has yet to
be published in the official record. Several attempts by members
of the press, political opposition, and civil society to obtain a
copy of the signed law have been unsuccessful. Donat Mbaya, JED
president, spoke with the RTNC journalist who read the law on
television, and was told that it could not be distributed until
published in the official record. The law itself states that it
will take effect upon promulgation, but there is ambiguity
concerning whether or not a law needs to be published in the
official record before it is considered promulgated, and therefore
questions about this new law's statutory authority. Mbaya told
emboff that without publication in the official record, the law is
not yet in force, and he believes that the president's allies feel
the promulgation requirement has been fulfilled by the RTNC
broadcast, even if the law remains unavailable to the press and

Strategic dysfunction


7. (SBU) In conversations with emboff and PAS local staff, several
leading editors, journalists and members of professional
organizations have expressed concerns that the law has not been
made public. Very few journalists attending the MONUC press
conference on January 13 were aware of the bill, and once informed
about it by PAS local staff, were very interested in learning more.
Donat Mbaya of JED fears that the presidential majority is
maneuvering to control the nomination process of board members, and
he is not alone. Another JED staffer sees a certain "strategic
dysfunction," where lack of legal clarity serves the purposes of
presidential power. Polydor Muboyayi (strictly protect), editor of
the newspaper "Le Phare" and president of Observatoire des M????dias
Congolaises (Congolese Media Monitoring Group or OMEC), an
ombudsman organization of professional journalists, told PDO on
January 13: "The media are now subject to this law, but they don't
know what the law says." Muboyayi sees this as "a trap," where the
presidential majority will wait until the nomination deadline
(unspecified in the draft legislation in PAS Kinshasa's possession)
expires, and then nominate friendly or malleable candidates to the
Board. At least one candidate, Jean-Chr????tien Ekambo, former dean
of the journalism school IFASIC, is already lobbying for presidency
of the CSAC board, and has asserted to JED President Mbaya that he
will be nominated to the seat reserved for the presidential party's
National Assembly selection. Note: End note.

8. (SBU) Comment: CSAC will play an important role in the
national elections scheduled for autumn 2011, and the selection of
its leadership will, to a large extent, determine how its
responsibilities will be fulfilled. Modeste Mutinga, owner of the
newspaper "Le Potentiel," served as president of HAM during the
2006 elections, and while some criticized him for being harsh or
partisan, "media professionals admit, almost unanimously, that HAM
played an important role in ensuring that the elections went well,"
wrote Marie Soleil Frere, a Brussels-based expert on the DRC media,
in 2008. If CSAC is governed by a responsible and non-partisan
board, and receives sufficient resources, CSAC could significantly

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contribute to a free and responsible press in the DRC. On paper,
the law codifies the new media regulatory apparatus and guarantees
certain press freedoms, yet its application is vulnerable to
political manipulation. PAS Kinshasa will monitor the situation
and work with contacts in the international, journalistic,
political and civil society communities to support efforts to
ensure that the law is first officially disseminated and then
applied justly. Embassy Kinshasa will participate in a January 26
meeting of international donors to discuss the CSAC and other
relevant press issues. End comment.

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