INDEPENDENT NEWS

Cablegate: Positive and Extensive Media Reaction to U.S. Press

Published: Tue 25 Aug 2009 10:29 AM
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SUBJECT: POSITIVE AND EXTENSIVE MEDIA REACTION TO U.S. PRESS
STATEMENTS ON NIGER REFERENDUM
Ref: a) Niamey 567 b) Niamey 515
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1. Summary: Coverage of the August 13 and August 17 press releases,
respectively outlining the USG positions on the referendum in Niger
and calling for the release of a leading opposition leader and a
journalist, has been widespread and favorable in the independent
print and broadcast media. (Note: A few contacts who learned about
the statements from media reports contacted the Embassy to report
inability to find them on the Department of State's main website.
End note.) One strongly positive editorial last week connected the
embassy's response with President Obama's speech in Ghana,
commending the U.S. for its consistent support of the noble
principle of democracy. The press releases may have provided a way
for the independent media to more boldly voice their editorial
position in a way that sheltered them from suspension by the
government media regulatory authority, and may succor the
beleaguered defenders of democracy in Niger. End summary.
2. Post distributed to local media outlets and posted on the
embassy web site the August 13, 2009 statement which declared that
the August 4 referendum to extend and expand the mandate of
President Tandja is a setback for democracy, and the August 17
statement calling for the release of civil society activist Marou
Amadou and journalist Abdoulaye Tiemogo (ref A), both accused of
speaking out against the government. Coverage of these statements by
the independent print, television, and radio media has been
far-reaching and well-received. The controlled state-owned media
has not responded publicly to the statement.
INDEPENDENT RADIO AND TELEVISION
--------------------------------
3. The embassy statements made a big splash on domestic independent
TV and radio. Dounia TV and Radio Group, a leading independent
media voice, began airing the statements in full on Monday, August
17. Bonferey TV, an influential, mainly Islamic-oriented channel,
whose director had just returned from an ECA-sponsored International
Visitors Leadership Program, also broadcast the statements without
additional commentary during the week of August 17. Anfani Radio
featured the statements with supportive commentary, and nearly every
major independent radio station joined in airing the complete
statements, reaching a combined national audience estimated to be
well over two million listeners.
INDEPENDENT NEWSPAPERS
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4. Several major independent weekly newspapers featured the press
statements in their issues of last week. Le Canard
Dechaine(circulation of about 1,000), a newspaper owned by the
imprisoned journalist Abdoulaye Tiemogo, whose release was called
for in the August 17 press release, printed the full August 17 press
release with the embassy seal and letterhead on its front page,
below the fold. Above the fold was a political cartoon in which
figures representing the U.S., EU, and Demark were telling President
Tandja, "No money without democracy." The complete text of the
August 13 press release was printed without commentary on the back
page of the same issue.
5. The credible and well-respected independent news weekly
L'Evenement prominently featured the U.S. reaction in last week's
issue. Ambassador Allen was given "thumbs up" in its weekly
political barometer for the press statement against the referendum
and her immediate dismissal of rumors that opposition leaders sought
refuge at the embassy, which the latter said restored their honor by
showing that they did not run and hide during the referendum. On
page three, a bold headline read "The U.S. Says No" above an
editorial that began by praising the U.S. reaction to the referendum
for being the most muscular in the international community and
closed with a quote from President Obama's speech in Ghana that
"Africa does not need strong leaders, but needs strong
institutions." The editorial commented on how the reaction of the
U.S. had quieted the doubts of those who, until recently, questioned
the ability of the international community to influence the
situation. This contrasts with an article on the same page which
criticized the irresolute official post-referendum French response,
which has effectively "poured cold water on the opposition."
6. La Griffe (independent weekly, circulation of about 1,000)
quoted from the August 13 press release in an article on page three
on the heating up of international reaction to the referendum. Le
Democrate (circulation of around 2,000) also printed the August 13
press release on page five last week in an issue which led with a
headline article criticizing the reluctance of France, the African
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Union, and ECOWAS to make unambiguous statements about the
referendum.
Comment
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7. Given the wide independent media coverage given to the press
statements, the U.S. will be remembered by the population for its
clear and constant defense of democracy and freedom of the press in
Niger. The press releases may have provided a way for some
independent media to speak out without incurring suspension in a
media environment where the newly-autonomous media regulator (CSC)
can shut down media outlets without warning for any reports deemed
"threatening" to the state (ref B). The CSC would likely hesitate
to sanction broadcasts of official USG press statements made
available to all media outlets, both state-owned and private. As
several of the more forthright editorials mentioned last week, the
U.S. rejection of the referendum as undemocratic and the declaration
of the consequences of the President's actions could encourage and
empower the multitude who aspire to a peaceful restoration of
democracy in Niger. End Comment.
8. Minimize considered.
ALLEN
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