US embassy cable - 05ADDISABABA3915

ETHIOPIA: VOA ON THE HOT SEAT

Identifier: 05ADDISABABA3915
Wikileaks: View 05ADDISABABA3915 at Wikileaks.org
Origin: Embassy Addis Ababa
Created: 2005-11-22 13:53:00
Classification: UNCLASSIFIED//FOR OFFICIAL USE ONLY
Tags: PHUM KDEM KPAO PREL ET VOA
Redacted: This cable was not redacted by Wikileaks.
This record is a partial extract of the original cable. The full text of the original cable is not available.

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADDIS ABABA 003915 
 
SIPDIS 
 
SENSITIVE 
 
DEPT FOR AF/E (SCHOFIELD, GAREY), AF/PD 
LONDON, PARIS, ROME FOR AFRICA WATCHERS 
 
E.O. 12958: N/A 
TAGS: PHUM, KDEM, KPAO, PREL, ET, VOA 
SUBJECT:  ETHIOPIA:  VOA ON THE HOT SEAT 
 
REF:  ADDIS ABABA 3852 
 
SENSITIVE BUT UNCLASSIFIED; PLEASE HANDLE ACCORDINGLY. 
 
1.  (U) SUMMARY: A November 15 meeting with State Minister 
of Foreign Affairs Tekeda Alemu provided the opportunity for 
the Charge to discuss the Government of Ethiopia's concerns 
regarding reporting by the VOA's Amharic      Service, as 
well as larger issues of GOE press outreach and its 
relationship with the private media (other topics discussed 
reported SEPTEL).  The State Minister's views on both issues 
do not indicate that quick fixes are likely on either.  END 
SUMMARY. 
 
2.  (SBU) During a meeting called by State Minister Tekeda, 
the Charge raised GOE concerns about VOA Amharic service 
reporting; the State Minister hat send two letters on the 
subject within the past two weeks (the first reported 
REFTEL).  The Charge said that the Embassy takes charges of 
biased reporting by the VOA seriously; she added that she 
also remains concerned that perceptions of bias may have 
spilled over into outright harassment of local VOA 
stringers, noting the October 26 attack on one. 
 
3.  (SBU) The State Minister responded that he knows that 
freedom of speech and of the press make GOE complaints on 
the subject "a delicate matter," and that he hoped his 
letters did not convey a message not intended, namely that 
the USG should in some way control or manage VOA reporting. 
Instead, he said, they were intended to alert the Charge 
that the VOA is "not working as a news outfit," but was 
instead "carrying out political activities intended to 
damage the EPRDF and the Ethiopian people with no sense of 
embarrassment or proportion."  He characterized VOA Amharic 
reporting as deeply imbalanced, saying that it intentionally 
sought out interlocutors who would comment negatively on the 
GOE; as an example, Tekeda cited recent stories that 
included accounts by weeping family members of those killed 
and detained in recent unrest.  He said that only an Amharic 
speaker could understand how deeply embedded the VOA's 
partisanship was in the Amharic language. 
 
4.  (SBU)  The Charge answered that she looked on his 
letters as a call for action; she said that she had already 
sent a request (REFTEL) seeking an impartial review of VOA 
Amharic reporting.  She added that the Embassy had already 
reviewed in detail the instance of perceived bias included 
in the State Minister's first letter, and noted that the 
English translation provided by the Ministry did not fully 
reflect the Amharic used in the broadcast, which did (unlike 
the Ministry translation) source a call for security forces 
to disobey orders to an opposition leader interviewed, and 
so was not a direct call from the VOA for such action. 
 
5.  (SBU)  The Charge said that the increasing controversy 
over VOA Amharic reporting had indicated to her two 
problems, one the GOE's and one the USG's.  The GOE's 
problem, she said, was that internal efforts to control the 
flow of information paradoxically magnify the importance of 
VOA Amharic reporting; the lack of non-state media, 
especially electronic media, guarantee the VOA an audience. 
That so much VOA reporting focuses on opposition activities 
is a result not only of VOA having good sources among 
opposition leaders, but also GOE inaccessibility.  The GOE, 
she said, does not do well in getting its side of the story 
out, making the appearance of one-sided reporting to some 
extent inevitable.  Perhaps, she posited, the GOE needs a 
spokesperson who could persuasively and proactively present 
its policy and actions. 
 
6.  (SBU)  The USG problem, the Charge said, is that there 
may in fact be a balance issue, but that, if so, much of it 
comes from lack of access and the resulting inability to 
report the GOE side.  She urged the State Minister to 
"really think about how you get your message out." 
 
7.  (SBU)  The Minister said he did not "disagree that the 
Government and the ruling party do not do well," but 
attributed it, not to an apparent inability to present its 
case, but to letting private papers "have their way for 14 
years," and not more actively moving forward on longstanding 
plans for a state-run press council and journalistic code of 
conduct.  As a result, he said, "they have been free to 
wreak havoc."  In regard to the VOA, he lamented that the 
Amharic service "could have played an important role" in 
inspiring Ethiopians, but was instead "part of the very ugly 
scene in Addis Ababa." 
 
8.  (SBU)  The State Minister lamented that "a few people" 
in the Diaspora have been playing a "zealous," negative role 
"with no inhibition."  He said that this was not isolated to 
the U.S., and cited examples in South Africa of opposition 
supporters there intimidating pro-government Ethiopians and 
Ethiopian-owned businesses.  Speaking of oppositionist 
members of the U.S. Diaspora, he said, "they provoked us," 
adding that their support empowered the hardest-line 
elements among the opposition and that "the Hailu [Shawel] 
types are beyond the pale."  He praised USG statements on 
Ethiopia, but said he felt recent ones "have been watered 
down a little," and added that he hoped that, despite 
pressure from within the U.S., they would not become less 
balanced. 
 
9.  (SBU)  COMMENT:  The question of VOA Amharic reporting, 
along with the flow of information to and within Ethiopia 
more generally, is clearly much on the minds of those in 
official circles here.  The GOE remains focused on issues of 
control and restraint, however, rather than positive 
engagement and outreach.  END COMMENT. 
HUDDLESTON 

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