Opinion: Media Coverage Of Sudan Demonstrations

Opinion: Media Coverage Of Sudan Demonstrations


KHARTOUM (Sudanow) - Free press and independent media have been the nightmare of politicians and dictators over ages. French leader Napoleon Bonaparte once said, “Four hostile newspapers are more to be feared than a thousand bayonets.”


Qin Shi Huang, the Chinese emperor who oversaw the building of China’s Great Wall, also used his power to stop ‘published information’ and ordered the burning of thousands of books on subjects he wanted to keep from the people. He even had hundreds of scholars executed for refusing to give up their book collections.


Until today many powerful leaders, even in some first-world countries, have shown open hostility towards the press and tried hard to block materials they do not want the people to see.


But it is common knowledge now that when ‘credible news’ is allowed to reach the people, positive results usually follow, as atrocities will be identified and defaulting leaders forced to be held accountable for their actions.  


It is also needless to mention that, in this age of digital technology it is almost impossible for any power to block the flow of news. Even if people do not seek out news, they often receive it anyway, instantly on their phones.


This article aims at objectively reviewing samples of national and international press and media coverage of recent demonstrations in Sudan with special focus on western press. A sample of Sudanow coverage of the demonstrations, at their very outset, is taken as objective representation of national media coverage of the demonstrations.      


It is undisputed fact that Sudan demonstrations started as living-demand protests at Atbara town in the River Nile State of north Sudan, and later spread to other parts of the country. The protests were actually motivated by acute shortage of bread and other daily-life necessities.


Moreover, the protests were originally “leaderless” as wittingly branded by Sudanow columnist/ Alsir Sidahmed, in his analytical article: “Demonstrations Across Sudan: Leaderless Syndrome”, which was published in the magazine’s issue of 23rd December 2018, during the first week of demonstrations.     


In his above-mentioned article columnist Alsir Sidahmed used a broader world perspective to highlight this ‘leaderless syndrome’ phenomenon with reference to the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ revolutions and recent ‘Yellow Vests Movement’ in France.   


Columnist Alsir numerated the reasons behind political unrests and popular demonstrations in many parts of the world and attributed the phenomenon to a number of issues such as the reverse effects of globalization, influx of conflict-driven migrants, mal-government and lack of able institutions that can address the growing aspirations of younger generations and the public. 


When he came to analyzing the lack of leadership or ‘leaderless syndrome’ with respect to Sudan’s situation, Alsir mentioned outright “the inability of the opposition to provide a convincing alternative able to rally people around its flag”.


But most strikingly was Alsir’s reiteration of the remarkable statement by former British diplomat Carne Ross and author of the new book “Leaderless Revolution” on the ‘basic feature’ of worldwide youth popular-revolt movements of our time, where Ross stated that these youths “know what they do not want, but are not clear on what they want or how to achieve it”.


The above statement about these youths, worldwide, ‘knowing what they do not want, but being not clear on what they want or how to achieve it’ indicates a worldwide need for a “paradigm shift”, as it has become clear that human aspirations exceed and extend beyond the mere satisfaction of physical needs and requirements.


It is also evident now that the presently-dominant western civilization paradigm has failed to provide a well-defined approach as to how to fill in the gap. In fact, western civilization has become part of the problem rather than part of the solution.      


Almost all national pro-government press adopted typically similar approaches in dealing with the issue of demonstrations voicing out the official stand that has ranged from denial and condemnation, to accusation of certain political opposition parties and militia factions being behind demonstrations, to reluctant admission of the fair demands of demonstrators, through to the call for establishing dialogue forums with youth demonstrators, to ultimately be concluded by sacking the entire cabinet at all levels. All through these stages quite a number of Sudanese press and media channels, with numbered exceptions, were falling into step with official releases and stands.              


As to regional media coverage of Sudan demonstrations, it is noted that only marginal attention was devoted to these demonstrations in the beginning, especially on Arabic-speaking regional media. Although, the demonstrations have quickly caught political agenda, most Arab media agencies maintained, for quite a while, labeling those demonstrations as mere ‘living-demand outbreaks’.


It is also worth mentioning that political agenda of some Arab countries towards Sudan have influenced the news coverage of some Arab press and media channels operating from within these countries.


However, international media coverage has been in abundance though little attention was paid to Sudan’s demonstrations at first. But as the number of injuries and fatalities increased, the international press began to show concern although most of international western press and news agencies do not have actual representation or presence in Sudan.


A BBC documentary, which was claimed to have been contributed in collaboration with undercover activists and reporters on the ground, has been aired reflecting harsh handling by security forces of the demonstrators.       


Other renowned western press and news channels as well as the Russian Sputnik news agency have also followed up the situation and issued press reports and articles on Sudan demonstrations mostly quoting online reports prepared by activists.


The Washington Post was one of the first press outlets to publish an article on Sudanese demonstrations. It has been closely following the situation through its Africa page. It has recently published a news report dated 5th March 2019 on the general strike called for by the Sudanese Professional Association, in which the Washington Post quoted a spokeswoman for the association, Sara Abdel-Jaleel, as saying that the strike was part of the ‘peaceful resistance’ process, and a positive step towards civil disobedience.


In the same article, the Washington Post reported that media workers of the privately-owned newspaper ‘Al-Tayar’ had joined the strike. It also highlighted the authorities’ stand and insistence that the rallies were the work of ‘evil’ foreign powers, and referred to the authorities’ vow to stop such ‘so-called’ evil powers.  


The Washington Post’s above-quoted article also bears reference to the state of emergency declared by President Al-Bashir, whereby ‘he has banned unauthorized public gatherings’ and ‘granted sweeping powers to the police’ as expressed by the paper.


The Washington Post concluded its article with a critical reference to cancelled meetings of constitution amendment committee describing the move as the ‘only’ political concession by the government so far in face of ongoing protests and demonstrations, stating that, ‘In February, the committee cancelled its meetings in what appeared to be the ‘only’ political concession by al-Bashir so far’.


Other regional and international press and media agencies such as African News, Toronto City News, National Post, and Fox News have also recently devoted some of their news articles and media coverage to the situation in Sudan.


However, it goes without saying that most, if not all press and news agencies are mere copiers of direct on-field reporting by demonstrators and activists of ongoing events in Sudan.


Hence, it is quite true to conclude that the advances achieved so far in media technology have made words and images more powerful and widespread than ever. Smart phones and social media have become quick and easy tools to receive and share news and information, where it is now possible for anyone with a mobile device to gather and publish “news” on the spot, and Sudan’s revolting youths have shown great ability to utilize this feature of advanced media technology to the fullest, as of now.   


*** Ibrahim A. Nabi is a simultaneous interpreter, translator and critic writer.


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