TV channels in Sudan appear to be drifting away from what is happening in the country. But there is an exception. Five months ago al-Shorooq Channel launched a talk show entitled \'al-Mahatta al-Wosta’ (The Middle Ground). The programme encourages people to talk freely, but since its launch, critiques do not halt.
The disapproval is geared towards the ‘The Middle Ground’ itself, but as well toward Ashorooq Channel and the main argument is that the programme and the channel are a tool to promote the National Congress Party’s (NCP) goals and agenda.
I do not agree with what is being said, that the Channel is a pro-government station.”
Ashorooq Channel’s General Manager, Mohammed Khair Fath al-Rahman, denies these accusations. I do not agree with what is being said, that the Channel is a pro-government station,” he says. Over the past four years Ashorooq Channel has strictly followed its editorial policy and the accusations have proved unfounded and are refuted by Ashorooq’s openness to the various sectors of the Sudanese society”, Fath al-Rahman argues.
Fath al-Rahman also denies the claims that the programme focuses on senior government officials. To him the opposite is an issue. The programme suffers from the officials’ unresponsiveness and evasion of the issues posed by the programme. He explains that when an official directly involved in a particular issue is called to attend the programme, another one comes”. Ashorooq runs the programme professionally, however, we do not claim that we are on the top or have achieved the hoped-for ambition”, says Fath al-Rahman.
According to Fath al-Rahman the programme does not focus on elites, it rather brings to the surface day-to-day issues of ordinary citizens, such as education, health and livelihood. Since its inception the programme has covered these issues with great satisfaction. The programme is subject to periodic evaluation by the Editorial Board and we are open to all suggestions contributing to its development,” says Fath al-Rahman.
The experiment of the ‘The Middle Ground’ produced by Ashorooq Channel is good.” Mohammed Abdul-Qader, the Deputy Chief Editor of Al-Ray al-Aam Newspaper, agrees with Fath al-Rahman. The experiment of the ‘The Middle Ground’ produced by Ashorooq Channel is good, the selected topics are good,” but Abdul-Qader also says that the treatment is shy”. This does not mean that Ashorooq lacks the ability to produce such formats, he says, but most of the programmes are a décor and exist as talcum powder for varnishing the face of the channels”.
Abdul-Qader draws a comparison between the ‘The Middle Ground’ and other talk shows produced by Arab channels, stressing that the latter have succeeded because they try to solve a problem, rather than only present it”. Thus, Sudan, with all the complexities and acute political, social and economic crises, as well as the wars that have become part of daily life, is still unable to project the facts on the ground through media outlets.
Ahmad Abdel Monam, an engineer working in the private sector, says he does not watch Sudanese channels due to their monotonous nature. Monam also says that he knows nothing about ‘The Middle Ground’, as he does not watch the al-Shorooq Channel.
I have not watched any episode to the end.”
Khalid al-Amin, who has watched a number of episodes of ‘The Middle Ground’, says there is a big difference between it (The Middle Ground) and similar programmes aired by other Arab channels”. Though most foreign channels deal with domestic issues only, he has learnt a lot. I have come to know the smallest details about Egypt’s problems and crises, such as the gas and diesel fuel crises, let alone the political issues before and after the revolution,” he explains. If you ask me about the topics presented by the ‘The Middle Ground’, I have not watched any episode to the end.”
Mohammed Abdel-Qader says that talk shows are interactive programmes”, which need a greater level of freedom”. Talk shows often raise issues related to the citizens’ concerns of day-to-day living, needs, services, and political problems”. He adds that there are channels specialised in this type of programmes in the West”, but not in Sudan.
Talk shows have played an important role outside Sudan as they are taking on a forward position, since free opinion and diverse vision vis-à-vis the addressed issues are allowed, far from obliterating others’ opinion or adopting unilateral viewpoints”, says Mohammed Abdul-Qader. He adds that otherwise, talk shows would be distorted, deprived of their interactive value, expressing a single opinion only”, and hence become more like public relations programmes”.
Certainly ‘The Middle Ground’ has deserved the credit as the first talk show produced in Sudan. The programme came at a time when dialogical programmes could play a great role in debating about and finding solutions to the numerous social and political problems the country is facing, but only time can ultimately judge the success of Sudan’s first talk show.