In Congo, UN Controls Radio
Will Not Show the Contract, Journalists in Danger
Byline: Matthew Russell Lee of Inner City Press at
the UN: News Analysis
UNITED NATIONS, April 3 -- While
espousing commitment to press independence, transparency and freedom of
information, the UN has a secret memorandum of understanding with the
radio station in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, under which
about content are be to be decided by the UN, not the journalists or
the station, Radio Okapi.
in response to questions after a
screening Thursday at the UN in New York of a film about the station, Ondes de Choc. The
documentary, called "Shock Waves" in English, profiles three
courageous radio journalists, but does not mention the UN's financial
editorial control. Inner City Press asked if the station had ever for
put rebel general Laurent
Nkunda on the air, and whether it has recently put on
the air Jean-Pierre
Bemba, whose life was threatened during last year's
elections. "We don't have his phone number," the station's editor
replied. Other questions arose about whether and how Okabi can cover
abuse and exploitation by UN peacekeepers and reports of UN
trading guns and gold in the Eastern Congo.
UN officials spoke after the screening. Inner City Press asked Kevin S.
in charge of Africa for the Department of Peacekeeping Operations,
where to get
a copy of the memorandum of understanding which he had described. Mr.
shook his head, saying that it is not a public document, that the UN
Legal Affairs would have to get involved. (The head of that Office has
to answer questions following coverage of his omission from the public
financial disclosure which he filed of housing subsidies paid by
Kennedy suggested that perhaps the counter-party to the MOU agreement,
Hirondelle Foundation, could show its copy. No, said the Foundation's
director Jean-Marie Etter. He described a range of other engagements
UN, including at least one other, in Sudan, that appears governed by an
editorial Memorandum of Understanding. Etter said that the UN station,
Miraya, should have the right to broadcast throughout Sudan, but is
confined to the southern part of the country.
Given that the UN
national sovereignty whenever it wants to dodge an issue -- for
in Chad and release in France of the Zoe's Ark staffers who
kidnapped 103 children -- Inner City Press asked for the basis of the
that the UN can broadcast throughout Sudan. "The Security Council,"
Etter said, referring to Council resolutions which set up the UNMIS
mission. But if, as Russian Ambassador Vitaly Churkin
said earlier this week,
the Security Council is not an Elections Board, how much less is it
cannot be emphasized enough that the front-line reporters who work for
so at great risk and with the goal of helping their country, as
the film, which despite some missing issues is well worth seeing.
Taking notes on a burning Andropov on a
UN-managed runway: will it be reported?
after the panel discussion, it remained unclear how much the UN spends
Okapi. A glossy hand-out in a DPKO file folder made available at the
entrance listed, as "operating budget for 2008," $4.5 "million
(Fondation Hirondelle's contribution)." No UN contribution was listed.
During the panel discussion, a UN official said that the station's
budget is $10 million a year, which would make the UN's contribution
million. Afterwards, one UN staffer put the UN's pay-out at $8 million,
another called it "incalculable," given that the UN provides
premises, travel, security and other services.
journalist was killed in Bukavu last year, Serge
Maheshe, and the government's purported investigation and
trial of his killers has left organizations such as Reporters
without Borders skeptical, as well as noting
the death of
non-UN journalists such as Patrick Kikuku
who served as spokesman for the UN Development Program through 2006,
praised Radio Okapi as "objected and balanced," and later added that
another Hirondelle radio station is housed within the UNDP compound in
in the Central African Republic. Given the refusal to provide a copy of
Okapi MOU in the Congo, it is an open question what editorial control
Hirondelle is subject to in Bangui.
For media to be
built-up in war-torn countries is important. If the UN is to be
should be more honest and transparent about the control it exercises,
and indirectly under memoranda of understanding. It should immediately
public such MOU agreements. It is not healthy to be surrouned by media
which is tempted -- here, legally required -- to produce positive
coverage. The antidote is critical coverage. To be continued.
* * *
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AlertNet piece by this correspondent
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Reconciliation Congress, and the UN's $200,000 contribution from an
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