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Sudan’s media in times of protests, suppression and blackouts

Hassan Faroog
Media coverage of the demonstrations in Sudan has been scant, as media houses and journalists are further suppressed.
9.10.2013  |  Khartoum
الصفحة الأولى لجريدة ’الصحافة‘، والتي اتهمت من طرف المتظاهرين وعدد من الصحفيين بتقريرها غير المتوازن عن الاحتجاجات، 27 سبتمبر.
الصفحة الأولى لجريدة ’الصحافة‘، والتي اتهمت من طرف المتظاهرين وعدد من الصحفيين بتقريرها غير المتوازن عن الاحتجاجات، 27 سبتمبر.

Several newspapers have either voluntarily closed or been forcibly shut down by Sudan’s security organs during the protests. Journalists are chased by the police and many are still under arrest. The reason: they do not follow the directive to report only what the government says about the demonstrations.

A number of newspapers, like ‘Al-Ayam’, ‘Al-Qarar’, and ‘Al-Jareeda’, have announced they will suspend publication in view of the worsening censorship by the security authorities on the coverage of the current events. The same authorities ordered ‘Al-Sudani’, ‘Almijhar Al-Ssiyasi’ and ‘Al-Intibaha’ newspapers to stop publishing for periods ranging from five days to a month, in addition to shutting down the offices of the satellite channels Al-Arabiya and Sky News Arabia.

We were surprised to see the events reported according to the authorities’ unilateral interpretation. This pushed us to resign.” Sarah Taj Al-SirA number of journalists have resigned from ‘Al-Sahafa’ newspaper in protest against the newspaper’s editorial policy, which has been descried as unilateral. Sarah Taj Al-Sir, a journalist who resigned from ‘Al-Sahafa’, says after the pervious editor was sacked by the authorities, the newspaper continued its usual professional conduct. When a new editor was hired, we were surprised by a new editorial policy that was so different from the newspaper’s original editorial approach. This lasted until the outbreak of the protests when we were again surprised by an events’ coverage that adopted the authorities’ perspective. This pushed us to resign in protest against the absence of professionalism in reporting on what was happening in the streets.”

Al-Noor Ahmad Al-Noor, who used to be the manager of ‘Al-Sahafa’ newspapers and writes as well for ‘Al-Tagheer’ newspaper, agrees saying that the current political and security environment has steered Sudanese journalism in one direction. Some newspapers refused this and thus suspended publication while others chose to continue despite all the difficulties,” Al-Noor adds.

It would have been in the government’s interest to report the events as they were not undermining the local media.”
Diaa El-Din Bilal
Diaa Al-Deen Bilal, editor of ‘Al-Sudani’ newspaper, says, it would have been in the government’s interest to report the events as they were, not undermining the local media, so the citizens wouldn’t have lost their confidence in their local media, hence seeking information from foreign media and social media networks. When the truth sleeps, rumors wake up.”

The Sudanese Journalists Network called for a strike to protest against the censorship policy. The strike was carried out in stages inside journalistic establishments and a number of journalists were arrested. While some of the arrested were released later, others are still under arrest. The security services continue to look for and arrest journalists on a daily basis.

Demonstrations against the government’s decision to lift the fuel subsides across Sudan have calmed down, but indicators that the government has been using excessive force are surfacing.

According to activists and human rights organisations more than 200 people were killed during the first week of protest in Sudan. The authorities have however denied this death toll, estimating the number of deaths at around 30.

Also read:
Sudan escalates mass arrests of activists amid protest crackdown
by Amnesty International, October 2
Numbers have similarly differed regarding the number of those arrested. According to activists and human rights organisations, the number has exceeded 1,300. According to the government, the number does not exceed 700.

Amidst already rising costs and economic hardship faced by many media houses, the new economic measures hugely burdening the citizens, also affect the newspapers further because, as Al-Noor says, the materials are imported in US Dollars, forcing the newspapers to choose between raising their prices and thus selling less copies, or stopping”.

The new situation will by default suppress journalism and lead to its death because newspapers cannot live unless in a healthy atmosphere in which they can practice freedom. I can already see journalism dying,” Al-Noor adds.