How did the media cover the recent events in the Sudan? There was a degree of spin as expected; but some honest reporting too.
On 4 October, France 24 Channel (Arabic) reported about the Sudan; but showed a group of protesters who were on the streets on 27 September (as the screen itself revealed) to give the impression that the riots were still in progress and conceal the fact that they have almost come to an end.
The highly respected Economist did better. Its title (5 October 2013) says “Riots in Sudan”, not demonstrations or protests. It also carried the picture of a burning tyre, and argued that those opposing President Bashir “express no common vision” and concluded: “Mr. Bashir’s strength is that, so far, no obvious alternative to him has emerged”. However, as an advocate of free market economy, “The Economist” avoided to state that the austerity measures in the Sudan were based on an IMF recipe submitted last year. Had the Sudan implemented it to the letter, the riots would probably have been more serious.
When Hillary Clinton was US Secretary of State, she expressed worry about non-Western media threatening the dominance of US and British-based channels. She referred to the rise of Al Jazeera and Russia Today. When interviewed on the phone by Russia Today Radio (Arabic) on 4 October, I was taken aback by the interviewer adopting the position of rioters and disseminating inaccurate information (like saying that the DUP has already withdrawn from the coalition government led by President Bashir). This contradicted the Russian political support for stability in the Sudan and Russian officials suggesting that non-signatory Darfur rebels be called “terrorists”.
Al Jazeera English did very well when it invited Ambassador Abdullahi A. AlAzreg on 25 September for an interview to express the Sudan’s position and answer questions.
The BBC (Arabic and English Radio and Television Channels) did well too; it gave us the chance to put our point of view fairly. Its coverage exposed the weakest link in the opposition’s arguments. It invited a leading member of the Communist Party of the Sudan-UK branch-who criticised the government; but was silent about the IMF or US sanctions. The reason is very obvious. The opposition is busy courting the West and keen to portray itself as a submissive alternative to President Bashir’s coalition government. That’s why its spokespersons cannot (repeat cannot) declare that they are against free market economy. Even the moderates among them have no alternative to the IMF recipe and dare not reject it openly.
They are also silent about the main stumbling blocks to improved relations with the West. Are they ready to opt out of the Arab League’s offer to recognise Israel with conditions expressed in the 2002 2-states plan which has recently been amended? Do they advocate recognition without any conditions? Can they state that publicly? How are they going to tackle the debt or end US sanctions?
The false claim that the Sudan is being targeted ONLY because of the Islamists is not true. The first civil war began before independence and J. Garang did not accept peace when Imam Sadig Al Mahdi was elected Prime Minister in 1986.
The coverage of Sudan Tribune was balanced because it reported the official record that “42 gas stations, 9 pharmacies, 2 companies, 40 public vehicles, 8 police stations, 81 comprehensive security sites, 35 police vehicles, 5 banks and 23 government buildings were attacked by vandals”.
The Guardian, Yahoo News and the Washington Post were all fair when they reported (26 September) that “the subsidy cuts come amid IMF pressure on Sudan to curb spending and repay debts”. All three repeated this sentence, a clue to the way the media is centralized and streamlined.
Apart from Al Arabiyya and Murdoch’s Sky News that openly incited and encouraged the riots, coverage was generally mixed, including some even-handed analyses.
Khalid Al Mubarak