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05ADDISABABA3852 2005-11-15 08:31:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Addis Ababa
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					  UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 ADDIS ABABA 003852 



E.O. 12958: N/A

1. This cable contains an action request. See paragraph


2. SUMMARY: On November 8, Charge d'Affaires met with local
and London-based Voice of America correspondents. She used
the meeting to discuss U.S. policy regarding Ethiopia, the
role the VOA is playing in Ethiopia at a time when its
listenership is likely at record levels, and Government of
Ethiopia concerns regarding the objectivity of the VOA
Amharic service. She provided them with background
information on the country's evolving political situation
and a brief on-the-record quote. Government of Ethiopia
unhappiness with the VOA Amharic service is well known and
increasingly loudly expressed -- and now threatens to result
in the loss of vital coverage to Ethiopians. The most
recent flare-up in GOE anger at VOA results from a VOA
bulletin that calls for a stay-at-home strike and asks
security forces to refuse to follow orders. Post requests
confirmation on whether this item did in fact run on VOA and
if so, please provide guidance on how to respond. An
independent analysis of VOA's Amharic reporting is badly
needed in order to respond to GOE concerns and ensure that
VOA is not jammed or receives interference. END SUMMARY.




3. On November 8, Charge met with London-based VOA English
service correspondent Michael Drudge, along with local
stringers Iskender Firew and Meleskachew Amaha (the latter
still wearing bandages as a result of an October 26 beating
by unidentified assailants). Joining the meeting were the
Embassy's A/DCM, PA Counselor, IO, PolOff, and FSN
Information Specialist.

4. Charge welcomed the journalists and consoled Meleskachew
on his injuries, telling him she had raised her concerns
about his assault with the Government. She noted the very
real need for VOA reporting at a time when Ethiopians are
unable to hear other independent voices -- and that both the
Ethiopian people and the government were listening. She
expressed hope that, as a part of the U.S. Government, VOA
would be sensitive to U.S. policy issues and uphold its
history of fair and balanced reporting. Referring to
unconfirmed reports that the Government of Ethiopia may be
attempting to interfere with the reception of VOA, she noted
that, if true, it was a sign of how seriously VOA's
reporting is taken. She cited a recent specific GOE
complaint (see below) and used it as an example of how
perceived bias can further impede the relationship between
the GOE and VOA. [NOTE: Since November 7, VOA reception in
Ethiopia has been increasingly unintelligible because of an
overlay to its frequency of Government-owned Radio Fana,
which has successfully reduced VOA's ability to be heard.

5. Noting that she was well aware of the GOE's blanket
reluctance to interact directly with the Amharic service,
the Charge said that it was still possible to report on
known GOE positions and important to present as broad a
spectrum of opinion as possible. COMMENT: One of the
problems is that VOA provides more news about the opposition
and its activities than any other news. Even if VOA does
not report GOE views, it could provide more news about other
events in the country. END COMMENT.

6. During a lively and positive Q&A, the Charge drew on
points presented to international correspondents at a
background briefing earlier in the day to explain U.S.
policy on the current situation. She described Ethiopia's
current political situation and outlined the role the U.S.
and the broader international community are playing to
resolve the crisis and re-focus all sides on moving forward,
including the November 6 joint EU/U.S. statement. She
recapped what had taken place since internationally brokered
negotiations began in early October (and subsequently ended)
and noted her optimism that progress was still possible.
She said that dialogue -- and a democratic future -- is not
possible without renunciation of violence and cooperation
between the government and the opposition.

7. She called for the VOA's help in focusing on the way
forward, citing the absence of other voices and Ethiopians'
always keen and increasing interest in VOA reporting
guarantee it a crucial place in getting balanced, accurate
information to them.




8. The current clampdown on private newspapers (in place
since November 2), combined with the state's monopoly on
broadcast media and its content, has meant that Ethiopians
are increasingly relying on short-wave, local-language radio
broadcasts by the VOA (and, to a lesser extent, by Deutsche
Welle) for information on the rapidly evolving political
situation in the country. A side effect of this increased
prominence of VOA reporting has been ever-closer scrutiny of
its coverage, especially through the Amharic service, by the
government and its supporters. (NOTE: coverage by VOA's
Tigrigna and Afaan Oromo services have escaped such
criticism of late, although the former came under fire
during the border war for alleged pro-Eritrean bias. Given
that the opposition is heavily based in the Amhara region,
the problem is specifically the Amharic service. END NOTE.)

9. The GOE's perception of bias was demonstrated this week
by a November 7 letter to the Charge from State Minister of
Foreign Affairs Tekeda Alemu, who decried "the very
destructive role that the VOA Amharic service has been
playing in its broadcast to Ethiopia." The letter goes on
to call the broadcast "one of the major sources of instrument for stoking violence as well as
for advancing and propagating the policies of the most
hardliner section of the CUDP," and "a transmitter of the
most destabilizing messages imaginable."

10. Accompanying the letter was the Amharic text and an
English transcription of an excerpt from the news in the
Saturday, November 5 broadcast, during the height of the
violence in Addis Ababa, that gave the direct text from a
leader of the Coalition for Unity and Democracy (CUDP).
This bulletin called for a stay-at-home strike beginning
November 7, to continue until CUDP leaders are released from
prison and the ruling Ethiopian People's Revolutionary
Democratic Front (EPRDF) agreed to negotiations. The
Ministry's English translation of the excerpt closed with
what appeared to be a free-standing, unsourced statement:
"The law enforcement agencies and the defence forces who are
supposed to safeguard the safety of the public should
immediately refrain from implementing orders." [NOTE: At
the time that VOA broadcast this information the CUDP leader
quoted was in hiding and was being sought by the Ethiopian
authorities. He was not authorized to speak for the CUDP.
But more worrisome still is the call for security and
defense forces to disobey orders. END NOTE.]

11. COMMENT: Government and EPRDF dissatisfaction with and
allegations of bias in VOA Amharic reporting are
longstanding. The last such round took place in June, when
VOA and DW local reporters lost their Ministry of
Information accreditation (and at least one VOA stringer
fled the country) and the state media carried denunciations
of the reporting of both. Whether or not actual reporting
carries biased or inaccurate information (and in general
that seems not to be the case), recent Post review of the
Amharic service does indicate that much coverage focuses on
opposition activities, both in the country and in the
Diaspora, with comparatively little illustrating other
points of view. The very reluctance of the GOE and its
supporters to engage with what it perceives as an opponent
may in fact be a substantial contributing factor in the
imbalance they perceive. END COMMENT.

12. ACTION ITEM: In order to reply to the Foreign
Ministry's complaint, Post needs the complete text of the
VOA broadcast and specifically wishes to know if the item
calling on the armed forces to disobey orders was included.
Post also requests guidance on how to reply to this specific
complaint. Post would like independent data that would
allow provide a better window into VOA Amharic reporting,
allowing a better ability to evaluate allegations of bias.
Given that a strong perception of actual bias exists, and
that at least some imbalance may be demonstrable, Post
suggests an impartial review of VOA Amharic reporting over
the past six months. This suggestion is not made with the
intent of pointing fingers, but to better enable Post to
respond appropriately to the VOA's vehement detractors in
Ethiopia and to ensure that VOA lives up to its reputation
for fair and balanced reporting.