INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Coverage of Nationality Law Shows Weakness Of

Published: Wed 8 Sep 2004 01:21 PM
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.
UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 03 KINSHASA 001691
SIPDIS
E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM PINS PREL CG
SUBJECT: COVERAGE OF NATIONALITY LAW SHOWS WEAKNESS OF
CONGOLESE MEDIA
1. (U) Summary. The Congolese media's coverage of draft
nationality and amnesty laws has shown the limits of entities
that lack independence, resources, and professionalism. The
directors of Tropicana Television, and the more reputable
daily newspapers La Referance Plus and Le Potentiel,
acknowledge the weaknesses of the Congolese media and
indicate that poverty, lack of professional training of
journalists, fear of controversy, manipulation by extremists,
and interference by media owners, political patrons and the
government, account for the absence of a real debate on the
issues of nationality and amnesty. Meanwhile, anti-Tutsi
rhetoric continues to surface sporadically on television talk
shows, newspapers, and workshops on nationality organized by
NGOs. End Summary.
Lack of Resources and Independence Limits Media Coverage
--------------------------------------------- -----------
2. (SBU) On August 16, Poloff met with Kibambe Tshintwa, the
Director of Tropicana Television, and owner of Numerica, a
privately owned television station and daily newspaper,
respectively, to discuss media coverage of a draft
nationality law currently being considered by Parliament.
Tshintwa acknowledged the serious shortcomings of the
SIPDIS
Congolese media and said that it was difficult to provide
good coverage of important issues such as the nationality
law. In his view, the main problem is poverty. Congolese
journalists are not always paid and when they are paid, their
salaries are very low. When a journalist is sent to cover a
story, he will give preference to whomever pays.
Additionally, journalists are easily intimidated to either
cover or refrain from covering stories.
3. (SBU) Tshimwa said that there are too many television
stations and daily newspapers in Kinshasa and not enough
advertising to make ends meet. Some media outlets are owned
by individuals who have direct ties to political figures with
particular agendas and others make themselves available to
those who can pay for access. Very few have the necessary
resources to remain independent and to strive for objective
coverage of events and issues. Lack of resources also affects
professional training of journalists as many people simply
start working for media outlets without any prior academic
background.
4. (SBU) According to Tshimwa, in the politically charged and
polarized environment of the Congo, it is difficult to be
seen as neutral. He said that ever since the
Mobutu-Tshisekedi media split of 1990, when each leader
supported different media entities, most people have come to
distrust the media and to assume that each outlet represents
a particular interest. Thsimwa indicated that when he
interviews Vice-President Ruberwa, supporters of President
Kabila accuse him of having been "bought" by Ruberwa.
5. (SBU) Thsimwa noted that people are afraid to discuss
sensitive issues like nationality or amnesty in an honest or
open manner that could be seen as pro-Banyamulenge. Although
Tshimwa claims that his television station tries to maintain
SIPDIS
a balanced approach on the nationality law, he could not
point to any examples of guests on his programs who have
advocated a generous and "modern" approach to nationality. At
a personal level, he said that he agreed with new laws that
would bring peace and organization to the DRC, including a
nationality law that would be inclusive. Thsimwa said that
there is no official censorship of the media, but that people
practice "self-censorship" according to perceived interests.
The National Congolese Radio and Television (RTNC) is an
example of a television station where programs such as "The
Media Forum" invite guests who share the same pro-government
views to debate issues like nationality, thus avoiding any
controversy.
Editor of La Reference Plus: Not Enough Debate
--------------------------------------------- --
6. (SBU) Poloff met August 17 with Ipakala Mobiko, the
director of the Kinshasa daily newspaper La Reference Plus,
to discuss newspaper coverage of draft nationality and
amnesty laws. Mobiko said the media reflects the disorganized
state of society in the Congo. He noted that instead of a
real debate within society or the media the voices that are
often heard are those of extremists.
7. (SBU) Mobiko claimed he has tried to publish balanced
articles on nationality that call for reflection, maturity
and inclusion. As an example, he referred to an article
published by his newspaper on August 9th, in which the
government was criticized for its approach to nationality.
(Note: The article in question does in fact call for a more
realistic approach to dual nationality, for the integration
of immigrants and for the education of the Congolese public
to address xenophobic attitudes. End Note.) However, he
acknowledged that there are very few credible newspapers in
the country and that most lack the independence needed to
truly inform the public and generate healthy debates on key
issues like nationality.
8. (SBU) According to Mobiko, newspapers are a better medium
to address issues in greater depth than either television or
radio. However, he acknowledged that they are beyond the
financial means of most Congolese. (Note: La Reference Plus
costs USD 0.70 in Kinshasa and USD 0.85 in the provinces. End
Note.) Mobiko noted that his newspaper circulates in major
cities throughout the Congo, but delivery is contingent on
flights, which are not always reliable. One creative way in
which Congolese do access newspapers is by reading them while
displayed in street corners or by making photocopies of
interesting articles and circulating these copies.
Editor of Le Potentiel: Journalists are Manipulated
--------------------------------------------- ------
9. (SBU) On August 26, Poloff met with Modest Mutinga,
director of the daily newspaper Le Potentiel, and President
of the High Media Authority (Note: This is a civilian entity
created under the peace accords to serve as "referee" on
media independence, particularly with respect to the
electoral process. End Note.) Le Potentiel, and La Reference
Plus are perhaps the most reputable newspapers in Kinshasa.
However, there are over twenty other daily newspapers that
are distributed around the city and most are unreliable and
lack serious content.
10. (SBU) According to Mutinga, the public media in the Congo
has always existed to serve the power structure. Although in
theory the media have now been liberalized, in reality little
has changed. In his view, the Ministry of Information still
does not understand that it should not interfere with the
editorial line of public media. The private and commercial
media's editorial lines are usually imposed by businessmen
with political interests or by politicians. Thus in most
cases, independence is severely compromised by financial and
political dependence.
11. (SBU) Mutinga said that the Congolese media was ill
prepared to educate and sensitize the public about issues
such as nationality and amnesty. In his view, the nationality
question had already been addressed by the Lusaka Accords and
the overall objective was peace and reconciliation. However,
this view is not shared by others, especially people from
eastern cities such as Bukavu, whose passionate views have
been prominently featured in the media. (Note: Civil society
members from Bukavu and Kisangani who discuss nationality
issues have expressed strong distrust of Congolese Tutsis
whom they typically referred to as "Rwandans". End Note.) In
terms of the amnesty law, Mutinga noted the media was
reluctant to deal with this very controversial issue, because
it involves people sentenced in the assassination of the
current president's father.
Hard-liners Dominate Debate
--------------------------
12. (U) During the month of August, Poloff participated in
two workshops that addressed the nationality issue. One was
organized by Journalists in Danger (JED) and the other by the
National Democratic Institute (NDI) and Global Rights. During
both fora, journalists and civil society representatives who
expressed xenophobic attitudes towards Tutsis spoke freely
and openly and comprised the majority of those who made
public statements. The few individuals who called for a more
tolerant and inclusive approach were immediately interrupted
and criticized. A woman at the NDI workshop who openly
challenged the notion that under Rwandan law, Congolese
Tutsis could not acquire Congolese citizenship, was booed and
later told poloff she had been threatened by one of the
participants. Jackie Bisimwa, a member of parliament from the
political opposition sitting behind poloff, kept interrupting
the woman loudly saying "We are not in Rwanda; let them go
back". (Note: In private conversations Bisimwa presents a
more moderate perspective. End Note.)
Comment
-------
13. (U) At a private level, the directors of some of the most
reputable media outlets in Kinshasa acknowledged candidly the
serious shortcomings of the Congolese media and the lack of a
real debate on the proposed draft nationality and amnesty
laws. In an increasingly intolerant climate, in which a
recent article in The Economist estimated 80% of Congolese
think that Tutsis are not Congolese, it is very unlikely that
most media entities would publish or broadcast the views of
those calling for nationality and amnesty laws that are
"modern", moderate, and generous. Instead, under the cover of
"patriotism", the Congolese public has been presented with a
vast array of television guests and newspaper articles
referring to the danger posed by Rwanda, questioning the
loyalty of Congolese Tutsis, and asserting that Banyamulenges
constitute a threat.
MEECE
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