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Sudan’s press buckles under political pressure during Heglig crisis

Hassan Faroog
Since the Heglig crisis in April, the Sudanese press has towed the official line, curtailed by tight governmental restrictions. This loss of integrity and independence has prevented the media from pushing for peace…
24.05.2012  |  Khartoum
تتعرض الصحافة السودانية للعديد من العواقب تهدد نزاهتها و استقلاليتها.
تتعرض الصحافة السودانية للعديد من العواقب تهدد نزاهتها و استقلاليتها.

Following the escalation of tensions between Sudan and South Sudan, the Sudanese press echoed the government’s view. During South Sudan’s occupation of Heglig, the newspapers’ biased made things worse.

Some papers went as far as to judge people, parties, politicians, newspapers and journalists in terms of the how patriotic they were. The war has revived terms like the ‘fifth column’, ‘agents’ and ‘traitors’.

Also listen to Charlton Doki’s story on media issues in South Sudan: A stumbling block to free media: the absence of press lawsAmid governmental pressure during the crisis, the press designated extensive column inches to reports, interviews and comments, all adhering to the official stance.

This biased reporting continued even after Heglig was liberated. There was an absence of analysis of the escalation’s causes and the press failed to moot possible peace-promoting solutions.

According to observers, the media is increasingly constrained under the current government. Officials are highly sensitive to anything perceived as a threat to national security – and the press is increasingly compliant.

This reality means that the Sudanese press was effectively prevented from doing its job during the recent siege. In Sudan, there is a long banning list of taboo themes, which when violated, result in newspapers being confiscated or shut down by security forces.

A number of newspapers have suffered this fate, including Ray al-Shaab, Alwan, al-Tayyar, al-Jareeda and al-Maydan. Rayalshaab’s possessions have been confiscated.

Also read: Homework for post-split Sudan: cure journalism of corruptionMeanwhile, more than ten individual journalists have been banned -- either directly, or by exerting pressure on the newspapers they work for. The government, which is the biggest advertiser in Sudan, also wields financial clout by being able to cut the media’s access to financing.

While the international community urged both countries to restart negotiations during the escalating tension, the Sudanese press failed to offer any possible solutions to the clash, meaning it did not carry out its function as a fourth estate.

Government officials praised the media’s role in the crisis between the two Sudans but in reality, the media has sacrificed its professionalism and integrity.