Cablegate: International Donors Seek to Push Gdrc On Press Freedom


DE RUEHKI #0128/01 0340808
R 021312Z FEB 10





E.O. 12958: N/A
SUBJECT: International donors seek to push GDRC on press freedom

REF: 09 KINSHASA 1044; 10 KINSHASA 86; 09 KINSHASA 1102

1. (SBU) Summary: Despite international calls (reftels) for the
Government of the Democratic Republic of the Congo (GDRC) to
improve the press climate, little action has been taken, according
to members participating in the last meeting of the Groupe
Inter-Baileurs M????dias (International Group of Media Donors or
GIBM). Donor representatives present at the meeting also pointed
out the lack of progress in the reopening of Radio France
International (RFI), as well as the subjection of international
journalists to the military penal code, and asserted additional
steps might need to be taken to press the GDRC to address these
issues. During a separate presentation about Radio Okapi, United
Nations Mission to the Congo (MONUC) officials said steps were
being taken to address concerns raised by staff about mismanagement
of the organization. End summary.

2. (U) The GIBM met in Kinshasa on January 26 to discuss shared
concerns about press freedom and other media issues in the
Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The GIBM meets on an
irregular basis (approximately every two months) to discuss issues
of shared concern for international donors seeking to build media
capacity and support a free and responsible press. The group is
chaired by representatives of the French Embassy, and hosted by the
Belgian Cultural Center. At the January 26 meeting,
representatives from the European Union, French, Belgian, and
Swedish Embassies attended, as well as emboffs and PAS Kinshasa
senior press assistant. On the agenda were three major issues: a
follow-up to the November 27, 2009 Chiefs of Missions (COMs)
demarche to Minister of Information and Communications Lambert
Mende concerning press freedom (ref a); challenges faced by
UN-sponsored Radio Okapi; and the recently signed law establishing
a new media regulatory body (ref b).

Demarche follow-up


3. (SBU) Meeting participants were in agreement there had been no
progress on the issues raised during the November 27 demarche to
Mende, in which Kinshasa-based COMs called on the GDRC to address
(1) death threats and other forms of intimidation against Congolese
journalists, (2) the accreditation of international journalists
submitting them to the military penal code, (3) and the
re-establishment of RFI's signal. French official Myriam Habil
stated that a reporter for Reuters and Agence France Presse
recently received an accreditation letter renewal from Mende that
included the same clause holding the journalist subject to military
penal code, which seemed to indicate that the policy had not
changed. Participants discussed several options to follow up on
the COMs' demarche, including: a public communiqu???? by COMs,
demarching another minister, and raising the issue with President
Joseph Kabila. They agreed to ask their COMs whether they would be
willing to participate in a communiqu????.

RFI still silent


4. (SBU) Despite Mende's private claims that GDRC and RFI have
agreed in principle to have the French radio station's signal
reestablished (ref c), Habil said that the two sides have not yet
come to an agreement, and no date has been set for a visit by RFI
representatives. While GDRC and RFI are in apparent agreement on
the establishment of an RFI regional bureau in Kinshasa, the French
broadcaster is not willing to subject its journalists to the
military penal code as an accreditation condition. Habil said that
RFI considers this non-negotiable.

Friction at Okapi


5. (SBU) Kevin Kennedy, Public Information Officer of MONUC, and
Bernard Conchon, project director of Hirondelle Foundation, which
provides funding and other support for Radio Okapi, were expected
to address the future of the UN-supported radio station. Yet the
publication in the independent newspaper Le Potentiel of a letter
by members of Okapi's local staff complaining of mismanagement and
harassment by the UN management became the main topic. Kennedy
acknowledged that Radio Okapi is undergoing many changes in
programming, organizational structure and personnel, for which the
local staff was not sufficiently prepared. "We have a vision for
the future of Okapi, but it is not always shared." Kennedy said.
"All this led to a situation where frustrations were expressed."

6. (SBU) To address the local staff's concerns, MONUC and
Hirondelle have established three separate procedures: (1) a
commission to examine the internal issues between management and
local staff; (2) an external audit to evaluate the effectiveness of
management and changes to radio programming and operations; and (3)
an internal audit to examine claims of harassment and negative work

New Media Law


6. (SBU) Since President Kabila signed a bill establishing a new
media regulatory body, the law remains unpublished in the official
gazette. Primo Mukambilwa, president of the Haute Autorite des
Medias (Federal Media Authority or HAM), told local staff that the
Supreme Court has ruled that HAM will retain its powers until the
new group is in place. Meanwhile, the law itself remains
unavailable to the press or public. At the GIBM meeting, emboff
suggested inquiring at the official gazette whether GIBM, or some
other organization, could pay for the publication. A
representative from the Belgian Cultural Center said he would
investigate this possibility.

7. (SBU) Comment: As the GIBM meeting made clear, there is
considerable concern among the international media support
community that the GDRC is dragging its feet on respecting
constitutional guarantees of press freedom. In particular, they
question whether Information Minister Mende has acted in good faith
regarding his promises to address a number of concerns. GIBM
members also voiced concerns, however, that that a communiqu???? or
other forms of public pressure against Mende might backfire, either
directly upon press freedom issues, or with regard to other
bi-lateral and multi-lateral concerns, such as the elections
planned for autumn 2011. Yet GIBM members all agree that action is
needed lest press freedom (and individual journalists) continue to
suffer, with negative consequences for Congolese democracy. End

© Scoop Media

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