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Mozambique: US Ambassador Reply to Criticism
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Mozambique: US Ambassador Reply to Criticism
Date Distributed (ymd): 960204
Note: In December APIC distributed excerpts from the
Mozambique Peace Process Bulletin, edited by Joseph Hanlon and
published by AWEPA, the European Parliamentarians for Southern
Africa. The posting also included a short news story from the
Mozambique Information Agency (AIM) recounting the refusal of
the U.S. Embassy to meet with Hanlon, one of the most
prominent Western experts on Mozambique, who has often been
critical of U.S. policies. Subsequently the Media Institute of
Southern Africa also ran a story on the incident, citing U.S.
Ambassador Dennis Jett as defending his policy of barring
embassy staff from talking with Hanlon on the grounds that
Hanlon was "totally biased." The highly respected independent
Mozambican newsletter Mediafax then ran an editorial on the
subject (excerpted below, together with Ambassador Jett's
reply in full).
U.S. Embassy Ruling on Correspondent Criticized
December 19, 1995
The U.S. Embassy's decision to ban journalist Joseph Hanlon
from contacting embassy and USAID personnel is a flagrant
violation of freedom of the press and free expression and the
right of the people to be informed.
The embassy is entitled to dislike how journalists report what
they hear, but it has no right to deny journalists information
that relates to Mozambique and to the interests of U.S.
Whether Hanlon is biased does not concern the embassy. And
even if he reports what he hears in a way that prevents
readers from separating his views from the facts, the embassy
has no right to ban him. It does have the right to respond to
a media outlet that publishes his stories and to put the
record straight through other journalists. And if Hanlon
misrepresents the facts as a matter of course, he will lose
his reputation as other media outlets cntinue to provide
Mr. Dennis Jett is entitled not to speak to any journalist.
But Ambassador [preceding word in italics] Dennis Jett does
not have that right, let alone the right to ban anyone from
the embassy or USAID from speaking to a journalist.
We know Joseph Hanlon and the surprising amount of work that
he has done in Mozambique since he came to Maputo as a BBC
correspondent in the late 1970s. We became acquainted with him
as a journalist who was not afraid to show his readers his
political preferences--as in the struggle with apartheid--and
a critic who acted in line with his political affiliations.
For instance, we recall that although Hanlon generally favored
the Mozambique Liberation Front's socialist plan in the 1970s,
he was among the first to severely criticize the then
Mozambique Government's agricultural policy.
Our Information Ministry's animosity toward Hanlon in the
early 1980s only worked in his favor.
Regardless of whether we agree with his reporting or views,
Hanlon's reporting on Mozambique and southern Africa
represents a set of information and analysis that is very
useful to Mozambique and to the next generation of
Therefore, it is with renewed regret that we regret the U.S.
Embassy's inexplicable decision.
January 9, 1996
Dear Editor of Mediafax:
Permit me to respond to your editorial of December 19.
In that editorial you called the American Embassy's
refusal to give Joe Hanlon interviews with Embassy and
USAID personnel a "flagrant violation of freedom of the
press, freedom of expression and the right of persons to
be informed." Mr. Hanlon, AIM and Domingo have all made
similar accusations. You also said that I, as
ambassador, have no right to ban any embassy employee
from speaking to a journalist.
Clearly you do not understand the values behind the
concepts you are so vigorously defending. I do not think
this arises from different definitions of the terms
involved, even though the American constitution and the
Mozambican constitution are not identical on these
points. The American constitution protects freedom of
the press and freedom of expression by declaring that
"congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of
speech or of the press." It should therefore be
obvious to anyone that an embassy cannot violate
freedom of the press in the American sense of
term, since only the parliament in a particular country
can pass a law that would interfere with a journalist's
ability to express or publish his opinions.
The Mozambican constitution protects freedom of the press
and freedom of speech as well, but uses somewhat
different words to accomplish this. Article 74 of the
"1. All citizens have the right of expression and the
freedom of press, as well as the right to information.
2. The exercise of freedom of expression, consists of the
ability to divulge one's own thoughts through all
legal means, and that the exercise of the right to
information will not be limited by censorship.
3. Freedom of the press consists of journalists having
freedom of expression and of creation, access to
sources of information, protection of their
independence and the confidentiality of their sources
and the right to create newspapers and other publications."
Since the Embassy has done nothing to prevent Mr. Hanlon
from expressing his thoughts or publishing them, clearly
the only question that arises is whether the Embassy has
violated Mr. Hanlon's right to information or his right
to access to sources of information.
Mozambique's press law, law number 18/91, contains
Article 29 entitled "Access to Sources of Information."
It states "Journalists, in the carrying out of their
functions, will be allowed access to OFFICIAL sources
(emphasis added) of information." Would the distinguished
editor of Mediafax have his readers believe that Article
29, which only mentions "official" sources of
information, is referring to the information of all the
governments in the world and not just that of the
Mozambican government? In any case, I and other members
of this Embassy have frequently made ourselves available
to the press in those cases where we believed it was
productive to do so. At the same time, Mr. Hanlon's
request for interviews was not the first we have declined
because we thought it would not be useful.
Since access to official sources of information obviously
does not apply, that only leaves the question whether Mr.
Hanlon's right to information could have been violated.
Article 3 of law 18/91 entitled "Right to Information"
states: "With regard to the press, the right to information
means the ability of each citizen to inform himself
and be informed of relevant facts and opinions at the
national and international level, as well as the right of
each citizen to divulge information, opinions and ideas
through the press." The citizens of Mozambique therefore
have the right to inform themselves and be informed by
journalists. Would the distinguished editor of Mediafax
have his readers believe that this should be interpreted
that any time anyone refuses to answer any question of
any journalist, that the rights of all 16 million
Mozambicans have just been violated?
Has the distinguished editor of Mediafax never heard in
his professional career the response "no Comment"? Has
he never had a phone call that was not returned or never
had a question he posed that was not fully answered? If
this has happened in the past, why have you not informed
the people of Mozambique in each and every instance in
which their rights have been violated?
I think the above arguments demonstrate the total
absurdity of the assertion that the Embassy's decision
regarding Mr. Hanlon violated freedom of the press,
freedom of expression or the right of the people to be
informed. You also made the point, however, that as
ambassador, I did not have the right to ban anyone in the
embassy from speaking to a journalist.
When it comes to expressing official government opinions
during official working hours -- which is what Mr. Hanlon
requested -- I not only have the right, but the
obligation to ensure that official positions are
expressed coherently and consistently. I also have the
obligation to the taxpayers of the United States to see
that their money is not wasted. We have spent many hours
in the past answering Mr. Hanlon's questions, which
failed to improve the quality of his reporting. Using
more time of embassy personnel to respond to more
of Mr. Hanlon's questions, given his ideological
orientation and lack of objectivity, would therefore be a
waste of such resources.
Would the distinguished editor of Mediafax have his
readers believe that any journalist has the right to ask
any question of any employee of any organization at any
time and that no one in a position of authority, be it a
manager, minister or ambassador, has the right to
determine whether or how the question will be answered?
If that is the case, Article 27 of law 18/91, which lists
the rights of journalists, fails to include such a right
and nowhere else in that law or in the constitution is
such a right described.
I believe this is more than just a case of not
understanding the letter of the law; it is also a
fundamental lack of comprehension of the spirit of the
law. This lack of understanding is not limited to this
one occasion. When the Embassy's press attache wrote you
in November regarding Mr. Hanlon, you took offense at her
suggestion that an entity of the government like AIM
perhaps doesn't understand freedom of the press. You
termed this an insult to you and the other journalists
who had worked at AIM and you pointed out "the journalists
of AIM had to struggle hard for this freedom of the
press, at times without success."
While you may have struggled, I would agree that you did
not succeed. When you were director of AIM, Renamo was
never mentioned by name, but was always referred to as
the "armed bandits." Today AIM only describes Renamo as
"the former rebel movement." It never calls Renamo "the
largest opposition political party" or even "an
opposition party." Frelimo, on the other hand, is always
referred to as the "ruling party" or the "governing
party" which is an accurate description of the present
without reference to the past. Do AIM's readers need to
be reminded every day that Renamo was once a rebel
movement? If it is AIM's intention to teach history, in
view of its successful struggle for liberation from
colonialism, why isn't Frelimo ever referred to as a
"former rebel movement?"
This problem with nomenclature is perhaps a small example
of bias, but I am not the only one who doubts AIM's
impartiality. The following quote regarding AIM may
interest you: "The service, although it never fails to
stimulate debate, is thought by many professionals to be a
government propaganda service instead of an information
service with the independence and objectivity guaranteed
by law." The quote is from an article on page 5 of the
August 28, 1995 issue of "Savana," an excellent newspaper
that I recommend you read.
Some would argue that it is pointless to enter into a
debate about freedom of the press with those who do not
understand it or choose to ignore the values that are
its foundation. Others say that arguing with an editor
is a no-win situation since he (or she) will always
have the last word.
While I do not disagree with these arguments, I think it
is an important debate nonetheless because the peace
which Mozambique now enjoys is by no means assured. One
academic study which I read recently concluded that
during the last fifty years in countries where there had
been civil wars that were ended through negotiation, in
one half of them war broke out again.
Whether Mozambique is part of the half that succeeds in
not repeating the tragedy of the past will depend, to a
large degree, on whether democracy succeeds here.
Democracy can function successfully only if the
institutions that are its foundations can function. In
addition to a strong legislature and an independent
judiciary, a free press is one of those essential
institutions. Can the press be free if it is owned by
the government? Is AIM your argument that it can? As
the editor of the oldest independent publication in
Mozambique, your opinions in this regard should be taken
When reading the accounts of those who worked for two
years to negotiate the General Peace Agreement in Rome,
one theme is consistent. The mutual lack of confidence
that the two parties had in each other repeatedly
complicated the process. The climate created by a biased
and unobjective press clearly contributed to this mutual
lack of trust. The role played by the press therefore
probably served to prolong the war and certainly served
to make implementation of the peace more difficult.
Distinguished editor of Mediafax, perhaps you should
spend less time complaining about your friend being
denied an interview and more time worrying about about
the threat to continued peace in Mozambique posed by some
of those who practice your profession.
Since Article 33 of Law 18/91 describes the "Right of
Reply", I trust you will not violate my rights and will
publish this letter in its entirety.
Along with the hope that the new year brings greater
understanding of and appreciation for freedom of the
press and freedom of expression, please accept assurances
of my highest consideration.
Dennis C. Jett
U.S. Embassy, Maputo
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