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Cablegate: Government Again Warns Independent Media

VZCZCXRO2195
RR RUEHMA RUEHPA
DE RUEHNM #0116/01 0430959
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 120956Z FEB 10
FM AMEMBASSY NIAMEY
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0002
INFO ECOWAS COLLECTIVE
RHMFISS/HQ USAFRICOM STUTTGART GE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 NIAMEY 000116

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM SOCI KPAO NG
SUBJECT: Government Again Warns Independent Media

REF: 09 NIAMEY 950; 09 NIAMEY 838

1. (U) Summary: The Conseil Superieur de la Communication (CSC),
the Nigerien media regulatory body and its subsidiary advisory
board, the Conseil de Presse, issued strongly worded warnings
against the independent media on February 8. The Counseil de
Presse recommended that three journalists from Dounia TV, Radio
Anfani, and Le Canard Dechaine be suspended for three months for
unprofessional and unethical conduct. This marks the end of a
brief period of slightly improving media climate in Niger and
raises tensions in advance of a planned media summit with the
Minister of Communications/Government Spokesman later this month.
End summary.

The Government Admonishes the Media

-----------------------------------

2. (U) The Conseil Superieur de la Communication (CSC), the
Nigerien media regulatory body, issued a public general warning
against the media in Niger on February 8 claiming that some media
organizations have been acting unprofessionally and jeopardizing
the public order. The CSC included in the press release specific
allegations from the Conseil de Presse, an advisory group comprised
of six journalists that reports to the CSC. While the CSC warning
is broad, the Conseil de Presse (Press Council) report of February
5 deplored the actions of specific journalists and called for a
three-month suspension of their press credentials. The Conseil de
Presse wrote that despite calls by the CSC for the independent
media to improve their performance, recent media reports have
contained numerous instances of insulting and vitriolic attacks
directed at institutions and individuals.

Two Newspapers Warned over Food Insecurity Coverage

--------------------------------------------- ------

3. (U) The Press Council criticized the independent newspapers
"L'Evenement" and "L'Actualite" for what they characterized as
alarmist and inaccurate reporting on the looming food insecurity
situation in Niger. "L'Actualite" also received criticism for
disseminating an allegedly unsubstantiated rumor of tensions
between Nouhou Arzika, chairperson of the Patriotic Movement for
the Defense of the People and the Nation (MPPR), and Prime Minister
Ali Badjo Gamatie.

Suspension Recommended for Dounia TV, Radio Anfani, and Le Canard
Dechaine Newspaper

--------------------------------------------- ------------

4. (U) The Press Council report singled out Dounia Television,
Radio Anfani, and the independent newspaper "Le Canard Dechaine"
for unethical and unprofessional conduct. Dounia TV received
criticism for allowing the remarks that high-ranking members of the
administration of Niger are crooks, made by a journalist with the
independent newspaper "La Roue de L'Histoire" Ismael Laoual Sallaou
during a televised journalism roundtable, go unchallenged. Dounia
also received a reproach for insulting the President of Senegal by
calling him "a sicko." The report censured Radio Anfani for
allowing a guest on a January 26 program, National Assembly Deputy
Sanoussi Tambari Jackou, to criticize the Prime Minister and use
language likely to threaten social harmony and incite ethnic
divisions. Le Canard Dechaine's Director of Publication Abdoulaye
Tiemogo came under fire in the Press Council report for two
articles: one from February 2 entitled "Tandja Mocks the People of
Niger" and another from February 1 entitled "The Unending Folly of
President Tandja's Personal Power". The report concluded with the
recommendation that the CSC issue stern warnings to Dounia TV,
Radio Anfani, and Le Canard Dechaine and suspend the press
credentials of Abdoulaye Tiemogo, Ismael Laoual Sallaou, and Zakari
Alzouma for three months. (Note: Alzouma is the Director of
Publication of the independent newspaper L'Opinions; the report did
not cite specific justifications for his suspension. End note.)
The GON has attempted to reign in Dounia, Radio Anfani, L'Actualite
(ref A) and Le Canard Dechaine (ref B) before.

Independent Media Cry Foul

NIAMEY 00000116 002 OF 003


--------------------------

5. (U) The CSC has not yet decided on sanctions, but sent a copy
of the warning letter to media organizations in addition to
releasing it publically. State-owned and operated national
television station TeleSahel broadcasted the report on February 8,
state radio Voix du Sahel did so on February 9, and state daily
newspaper Le Sahel printed it on February 10. Ousmane Toudou,
managing director of Radio Anfani, expressed his surprise and
indignation during a February 8 newscast and said he would appeal
any sanctions. He also claimed that the Press Council violated
regulations by sending its report directly to the CSC without
consulting or advising the accused media organizations. The
chairperson of the ANEPI, the National Association of Independent
Press Editors, said on several private radio stations that this
step "reveals the illegitimacy of the CSC." Privately, several
journalists shared their disapproval of the Press Council's actions
with post, saying that the CSC is trying to choke the independent
media.

The Press Council

-----------------

6. (U) The Press Council is a body of six press representatives
appointed by the CSC in an advisory capacity. The current Council
is composed of: Harouna Niandou, President of the Council and
independent journalist; Illa Kane, Director of Publication of the
independent but pro-government newspaper "La Griffe"; Abdoulaye
Issaka, freelance journalist and media consultant; Aboubacar Kiassa
and Habou Hadi, journalists with state radio Voix du Sahel; and
Fatouma Ide, journalist with the state newspaper organization ONEP.
Several journalists have told post that the Press Council is
pro-government and is not representative of the private media.

The End of a Warming Trend

--------------------------

7. (U) The CSC and Press Council report put an end to a short
period of slightly improving press freedoms. The Public Affairs
Section held a series of lunches and visits with independent media
in Niamey and in the interior of the country (Dosso, Maradi, and
Zinder) over the last two weeks. The journalists consistently
opined that government intervention has eased somewhat in the last
few months due to the EU's insistence on press freedoms during
meetings in Brussels in December 2009, the ongoing ECOWAS mediated
Inter-Nigerien Political Dialogue, and consistent pressure from the
international community, particularly the USG. The Director of
Publications for the independent newspaper "Le Republicain" told
the PAO that during a recent meeting of media organizations, the
media association singled out the U.S. Embassy as the primary
supporter and defender of press freedom in Niger through workshops,
public statements, and financial support.

8. (SBU) The journalists stressed that despite the recent warming
trend, not long ago they were subject to harassment and
intimidation, including direct threatening phone calls from the CSC
to avoid granting coverage to the Opposition during the run-up to
the referendum and local elections. One publisher of a major
independent newspaper told the PAO, "There is still no press
freedom in Niger. We all know where the line is and that we are
not to cross it."

Min. of Comm's Conference on the State of the Media

--------------------------------------------- ------

9. (U) Another sign of formerly improving relations between the
media and the GON was the Minister of Communication and Government
Spokesman Kassoum Moctar's plan to convene media organizations to
assess their needs and discuss ways to support them. During the
first meeting with major media organizations on December 29, 2009,
Moctar said he would hold a general meeting with media
representatives and the CSC to discuss the recreation of the Maison
de la Presse, government grants to support the independent media,
and decriminalization of media infractions. He also said he wanted
to hold a "Media Evening" to celebrate the role of the media in

NIAMEY 00000116 003 OF 003


Niger.

Maison de la Presse

-------------------

10. (U) The GON established the Maison de la Presse in 2005 after
the Francophonie games as a center for conferences, training,
internet access, and filing stories. The GON donated the building
and equipment, and the media association paid for salaries,
utilities, and supplies. The GON closed it in June 2008 after
accusing the international community of subverting it to influence
the independent media and criticize the GON. Independent
journalists are eager for its re-establishment.

GON Financial Support for the Press

-----------------------------------

11. (U) The "fond d'aide a la presse" is an annual GON grant to
support independent media. The previous amount was 200,000,000 CFA
(approximately 417,000 USD), distributed to independent print and
broadcast media via the CSC, which controversially kept 70,000,000
CFA (approximately 146,000 USD) for "training for community radio
and training the trainers." Post's contacts in the independent
media say that they have requested that the CSC not control this
fund. In mid-2008, the GON accused former Prime Minister Hama
Amadou of embezzling 100,000,000 CFA (approximately 208,000 USD)
from this account, granted in 2001.

Decriminalization of the Press

------------------------------

12. (U) The "depenelisation du delit de presse" stems from a
campaign pledge of former Prime Minister Hama Amadou in 2004 to
decriminalize inadvertent reporting errors and enhance protection
for journalists in cases of accusations of slander and libel. The
independent media has decided to push for this stalled legislation
again, and the Minister of Communication and Government Spokesman
has said he would revisit the idea.

Comment

-------

13. (U) The recent lessening of restrictions on the independent
media appears to have been a false start. Unwilling to garner
negative international attention during the Inter-Nigerien
Political Dialogue, the GON appeared to relax its prior campaign of
harassment and intimidation, with a resulting noticeable uptick in
stories critical of the Government. Increasing coverage of a
serious deficit of food resources, however, appears to have hit a
nerve and the Government has decided once again to intervene and
control the media. The targets of the Press Council report,
representing independent radio, television, and newspapers, appear
carefully chosen to send a warning signal to all independent media.
This step will raise tensions and make the upcoming meeting with
the Minister of Communication and Government Spokesman even more
pivotal. End comment.

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