Thu, May 09, 2019 - Page 6 News List

Sudanese slam state media for protest coverage blackout

AFP, KHARTOUM

A child runs on a street lined with carpets outside the army headquarters in Khartoum, Sudan, on Tuesday.

Photo: AFP

Grasping an empty plastic bottle that stands in for a microphone, young Sudanese protester Abu Bakr Marghani pretends to be a journalist interviewing demonstrators at Khartoum’s sit-in outside the army complex.

The would-be correspondent is cheered by his small crew each time he thrusts the device in front of a peer and asks a question.

“We mean to poke fun at Sudanese state media who did not take our side during the protests,” said Marghani, 18.

“They did not cover it at all — only foreign media did,” he said, as one of his buddies holds a wooden stick with a plastic cup dangling from one end, in a creative attempt to mimic an adjustable boom mic.

Since Dec. 19, Sudan has been rocked by protests that finally led last month to the ouster of former Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir, who was in power for three decades.

Protesters remain encamped outside the military complex, demanding that the generals who toppled al-Bashir on April 11 be replaced by a civilian administration.

State media’s complete blackout of the months of demonstrations prior to his ouster — including a failure to report the deaths of dozens at the hands of security forces — left protesters fuming.

Instead, state-run Sudan TV broadcast al-Bashir’s rallies, government business and light viewing.

“People were dying for four full months and all the Sudanese media broadcast was cooking shows,” Marghani said.

The pro-regime newspapers stuck to reporting day-to-day government activities.

“They only started siding with us after al-Bashir was toppled,” Marghani added.

Sudan TV said it had to comply with government directives.

“The news broadcast was within the limits allowed by the government at the time,” Sudan TV news director Mozamel Suleiman told reporters. “We are owned by the state and our narrative had to conform to the state’s general policy.”

Angry protesters have since on several occasions forced state media journalists out of the sit-in when they come to report on it.

During al-Bashir’s long tenure, the press was severely curtailed, according to media activists.

The country’s feared National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISS) cracked down regularly on journalists who questioned al-Bashir’s policies.

“Officers [of NISS] used to go to newspapers’ headquarters to check and cross out whatever they didn’t want published,” leading Sudanese journalist Faisal Saleh said. “From sports news to political affairs, anything was subject to scrutiny.”

However, things appear to be changing since al-Bashir’s ouster, as Sudan TV has been showing footage of the Khartoum sit-in.

Critics of al-Bashir now participate in talk shows on Sudan TV and local newspapers were quick to report his downfall.

“There is no pre-censorship now and newspapers go to print freely without running the risk of being confiscated,” Mirghani said.

Suleiman agrees that a wider range of news is now broadcast on Sudan TV.

“We are now totally free. We now cover highly sensitive news even on air,” he said, referring to live footage of the sit-in.

However, non-state journalists like Mirghani and Saleh are still skeptical about the future of media in Sudan.

“The authoritarian mindset in control of state media is still prevalent,” Mirghani said. “It will take a long time for the old mentality to die and to see a palpable change.”

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