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Sudan’s media keeps eagle eye on South Sudan’s crisis

Mahir Abu Goukh
Sudanese media has kept close tabs on its southern neighbour’s month of conflict -- and, for once, government censors are keeping quiet.
21.01.2014  |  Khartoum
The crisis in South Sudan has resulted in the displacement of thousands in Juba and a number of other cities, January 3.
The crisis in South Sudan has resulted in the displacement of thousands in Juba and a number of other cities, January 3.

Fighting between the South Sudanese government and rebels over the past month has been closely followed by the media in neighbouring Sudan. And, the media coverage has been notably for its lack of censorship, although the government and the security apparatus continue to restrict newspapers’ reporting on other issues.

Mutaz Mahgoub, a journalist at Al-Intibaha, explains the government’s hands-off approach is due to reporters being meticulous about what angles they cover. I think that the press is dealing with this topic quite carefully which has spared it security control because it has neither suggested nor attempted to find a link between what is happening there and in Khartoum,” he said.  This explains why the Sudanese government has allowed them room to cover South Sudan’s crisis.”

The recent developments in South Sudan have been like a God-sent gift for the government.”
Wa’el Mahgoub
Wa’el Mahgoub, Editor of Al-Ayyam daily, said the government censorship happens as soon as officials feel threatened. The government will leave the door open and allow newspaper publication, but the moment it feels that what they publish is directed against it, one way or another, it will intervene.”

Some see the unusual scope for press freedom as a bid by the Sudanese government to distract public attention from problems at home, especially widespread anger in the aftermath of last September’s demonstrations where dozens of protesters were killed, and leadership rivalries within the ruling party.

The recent developments in South Sudan have been like a God-sent gift for the government,” Wa’el said.

Mahgoub, from Al-Intibaha, a Sudanese newspaper published after the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement to call for the secession of South Sudan from Sudan,  agreed: The government has been saved by the bell twice since South Sudan’s crisis has distracted domestic public opinion away from the difficult living conditions and also from what happened within the ranks of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP),” he said.

He added that South Sudan’s conflict has provided the government with justification to impose fresh price increases. This move to help patch up the public budget has been explained by blaming the southern neighbours conflict for economic troubles in Sudan.

Sudan is feeling the heat of conflicts across the border. Sudan’s economy is already troubled but after the outbreak of the conflict work at South Sudan’s oilfields came to a halt. As a result foreign currency exchange rates in the Sudanese markets jumped by about 13.5 points and the exchange rate of the U.S. Dollar against the Sudanese Pound ran as high as 8.4 Pounds.

Mahgoub explained that South Sudan’s crisis has dominated headlines in its northern neighbour: The impact of South Sudan on Sudan is quite significant; it still deals with its own issues as if we lived in one country and as though what happened in South Sudan resembled the events experienced by Darfur or the Nuba Mountains,” he said.

The impact of South Sudan on Sudan is quite significant.”
Wa’el Mahgoub
Opinions are split on how South Sudan is presented in Sudanese media. Editor of Al-Ayyam daily Wa’el Mahgoub argues that the tone can be snide, according to the agenda of different publications. Some are motivated by schadenfreude and grudge -- a characteristic feature of racists who have long promoted that the Southerners are incapable of managing their own state -- while others are concerned about the great impact of this conflict on Sudan’s economy,” he said.

Wa’el said some also acknowledge that the ties between the two nations are deep -- expressing compassion towards the unfolding humanitarian crisis across the border.

Mahgoub, however, says that Sudanese public opinion in general and the media in particular have not been gloating over South Sudan’s misfortune since it is adversely affecting the Sudanese economy too.

The estimated deficit of the 2014 budget, due to be passed by the Sudanese parliament -- over 90 percent of whose seats are dominated by the NCP -- amounts to 14 billion Sudanese Pounds. Estimated revenues generated by transit and export of South Sudan’s oil over the Sudanese territory have been put at five billion Pounds.