...it is the grass that suffers. On the 9 July 2012 the two youngest countries in the world celebrate their first birthdays. To mark the occasion, journalists from Sudan and South Sudan came together to report on the development of both nations in the second edition of The Niles. The proverb about the two elephants, which is popular in both countries, has become a fitting leitmotif. How much the grass actually suffers, how the elephants are affected and what that has to do with relationships between people, are all explored in the collection of stories, pictures and songs from Sudan and South Sudan.
16 The Niles | Media “We fight for the impossible” Mahjoub Mohamed Salih is the “grey eminence” of Sudanese journalism and editor-in-chief of the newspaper Al-Ayyam. Here he explains the strength of the press in Sudan, the lack of investigative journalism and the secret of writing critically about the government without being arrested. Q: Mr. Salih, you are the most experienced editor-in-chief in Sudan and have been working for more than 70 years as a journalist. Do you ever regret your choice of profession? A: At the beginning, I didn’t consider journalism as a profession. Those days, Sudan was a relict type of colony under Anglo-Egyptian rule and under colonial rule, the press is an advocacy tool. I come from a working class family and wrote my first article at the age of 12. I later joined a Marxist group and became one of the leaders of the student movement. Q: So your professional aspirations were initially politically motivated? A: We wanted to get across to the people our wishes for the future. Journalism to me was a way to express my political views specifically for liberating the country from foreign rule. So that’s why I became a journalist. Q: Expressing political views under colonial rule – this sounds like a mission impossible. A: Several people were imprisoned. I went to jail because I took part in demonstrations but also because I was a junior reporter. At that time, it didn’t take much to get incarcerated. Q: One must not even go back to the colonial era. This year, the Sudanese press reported the temporary suspension of the dailies Alwan, Al Tayar and even Akhir Lahza. Many journalists have been detained. Isn’t working in this profession just like tilting at windmills? A: Absolutely not. The strength of the press in Sudan is that it affects the public opinion, the discourse, and those who make the decisions – despite confiscations and political repression. The majority of Sudanese are illiterate and they’d rather listen to the radio. But for the elite, the press is a major point of reference. And as such, it is looked upon by the ordinary man as a very important organ in his hands, reflecting his views and educating him. Q: Balance and education – is this also the philosophy of your newspaper Al Ayaam? A: Definitely. I think what makes our newspaper special is the different types of views people find in it. We try to address issues in depth and in a very open manner. I think people who read us look for that. And I believe that this was one of the privileges of Al Ayaam since it started in 1953. We are broken, but outspoken and very good. This combination is important. Q: Is it really as easy as that? After all, Al Ayaam was closed down by the authorities from 1989 to 2000 and then again in 2003 for a couple of weeks. A: I was over 60 years old by that time, so I relaxed a bit. No, seriously speaking, I think good journalism needs to be credible. You have to cover all events and views, even those you don’t like. But you are free to express your views decently and correctly, whatever they are. You can go against the government 100 percent, but you can’t accuse persons for things they haven’t done. That’s why we need investigative journalism in Sudan, more than ever before. Q: But investigative journalism implicates the unveiling of a hidden truth, which leads to the question of access to information. A: Freedom of information is definitely lacking in the shape of the Sudanese legal framework. We need a law that demands that everyone who runs an institution, private or governmental, must make information available. We suggested a law to this government five years ago and they didn’t do it. We don’t expect them to do it. We know it is impossible, but we fight for the impossible. Q: Meaning? A: Al Sudani recently published an article about a government official who broke the rules through his business links. The government issued orders to prevent us from commenting on this affair because the guy is under investigation. We continue fighting for our right to report on this case. Being under investigation should not mean we stop publishing. So it is possible to have investigative journalism, but I would say that it is difficult. Q: Looking at the Sudanese newspaper market, the variety of publications seems to underpin your argument. A: This is not a unique phenomenon for Sudan. Whenever you have a dictatorial regime, the society is closed down. But as soon as it begins to open up a little, the right to express yourself becomes predominant, because people have been kept silent for such a long time. This happened in Eastern Europe, after the fall of the communist system. This happened in Iraq after Saddam Hussein as well. Q: So, going back to my initial question: Have you never thought of giving up and becoming a doctor or an engineer instead? A: I decided to stay in journalism with all of the ups and downs. It has never been lucrative, it is even a poverty profession, but I persist. ” Mahjoub Mohamed Salih is the editor-in-chief of Sudan’s second oldest, independent and liberal daily newspaper, Al-Ayyam. He was born in 1928 and his first articles were published in 1940 in the pupil’s section of the daily newspaper Sawt Al-Sudan. After studying at Gordon College, he founded Al-Ayaam in 1953, a daily newspaper that was shut down twice by the Sudanese authorities during the 1960s, leading him to become an editor for the English newspaper Morning News and work as a correspondent. During the Nimeiry Era, (1969 – 1985), he was a stringer for newspapers outside of Sudan. Al-Ayaam was closed from 1989 to 2000 and again from November 2003 until January 2004 for covering the war in Darfur. Salih was imprisoned several times for his coverage of critical topics “I’m not radical, I’m flexible” by Waakhe Simon Wudu A year since South Sudan gained its independence, journalists and rights activists still express concern about inadequate press freedom, even as officials underscore the role of media in building a strong, democratic society. An interview with one of South Sudan’s most outspoken independent journalists and publishers, Nhial Bol, editor-in-chief of the daily, The Citizen. Q: Mr. Bol, recently Atem Yaak Atem, the Deputy Minister of Information and Broadcasting, said: “One of the important aspects of the struggle was to establish a better society where there is justice, equality and freedom of expression.” Has press freedom improved since independence? A: If you have observed the cases of journalists who have been beaten, arrested, harassed and humiliated since independence, it is clear that we are heading for the worst. We cannot say that there is press freedom when we do not have a legal instrument or a law that regulates it. Q: The South Sudanese Information Minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, described the media environment in South Sudan as “hostile and dangerous,” due to the absence of the legal framework you mentioned. The media bills have been passed by the National Council of Ministers and await legislation by the National Parliament. Why did the president order the withdrawal of the bills? A: The intention was to allow stakeholders to participate. But until today, the stakeholders, especially the media, say they have not been consulted and their views have not been taken into consideration. Q: But the Minister of Information and Broadcasting said during the commemoration of this year’s World Press Day that these laws were withdrawn from parliament at the request of some media activists and that consultations about the laws were being held? A: As far as I know, the directors of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting and the directors of the Ministry of Telecommunication and Postal Services were the ones who discussed our draft bills and we were not consulted. I protested this. Even if these laws are proper and up to international standards, press freedom will be limited. It should have been a package of bills that relate to civil rights in general, but media bills without civil rights laws will prolong the current crisis. Q: What are the most pressing challenges that the independent media is facing as a result of the current situation? A: The security people have been calling us about stories they do not want published— that we should not touch the president and his personal life for example. We invite them to sit down and interact but they do not turn up, so they are exercising indirect censorship. Q: South Sudan has media umbrella institutions, such as the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS)
Crossword | The Niles 17 KEY: 1 FIVE 2 ISMAIL 3 ALEXANDERSIDDIG 4 ADWOK 5 THABOMBEKI 6 REDSEA 7 ELEPHANT 8 HALAIB 9 SUDD 10 WEK 11 ABYEI 12 ALRUBO 13 AZIBNI 14 CYMBELINE 15 KHARTOUM 16 MOHAMMEDWARDI 17 BOL 18 KORALBINO 19 NILE 20 ILEMI 21 EMMANUEL The Niles Puzzle Are you an expert or just a beginner? Test your knowledge about South Sudan and Sudan. and the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS). To what extent do these umbrella institutions get involved in mitigating challenges affecting the independent media in South Sudan? A: All these organisations have been trying to push for the passage of the media bills, but now they are relaxing and have become umbrellas for creating jobs. I do not think they are doing anything to benefit the media houses. Journalists are arrested and the Union of Journalists cannot even issue a single statement. The chairman is operating in a hotel, unable to establish the union in a place accessible to other colleagues. In most cases they have not even discussed the issues facing the journalists. AMDISS is an organisation formed to deal with media development, so they do not directly intervene in these issues. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 12 11 13 14 15 16 Q: You are someone who is always radical, especially in your column “Straight Talk”. How many times have you been arrested by security organs since independence? 18 17 A: I think all the arrests were not by the security but by the police over petty issues. So it is not a matter of radicalism, it is rather an issue of the absence of a transparent system. We have gone to court many times and I can assure you that there is no single case where we have been implicated, apart from one, which we appealed. That was the one of the Secretary General of the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), blaming us for attending a press conference without crosschecking with the Secretary General. Ethically, the court decision was unfair because it was a public press conference in a public place. I’m not radical, I’m flexible. Things are going wrong and the authorities do not want people to talk about it. Q: What measures would you take in order to improve press freedom in South Sudan? A: If you want to be free you must know your rights. Yet if you go around the media houses, some of the journalists are very irresponsible and they do not practice ethical journalism. Ethics mean we have to be responsible. Sometimes we make mistakes, which provides chances for the authorities to interfere in our role. I just think we need a lot of journalism training. The government is only taking advantage of our ignorance and for that, I do not blame them. Journalists share the blame. ” Nhial Bol Aken, Managing Director of Citizen Publications Limited and Editor-In-Chief of The Citizen newspaper, is one of the most prominent journalists in Juba. Outspoken, yet fairminded, Nhial often gets into trouble for his column ‘Straight Talk’, highlighting the state of corruption and intimidation in South Sudan, as the slogan of The Citizen, “Fighting corruption and dictatorship everyday”, claims. “These are the two biggest problems in South Sudan,” Nhial says. “The high level of corruption will lead to insecurity one day.” The Citizen, which opened its Juba office in 2006, has the highest circulation among all newspapers in South Sudan and it is the only newspaper in the country with its own printing press. For more information check out the latest MICT-study on the Sudanese press: www.theniles.org 21 19 20 Across 2 Fast in 800 metres: Ismail Ahmed... 6 Even more water than the Niles 10 The supermodel (family name) 11 Somewhere in the middle 12 Sudan’s Stevie Wonder 13 The Niles’ song 16 The emperor of Sudanese music (first and family name) 17 First Sudanese NBA-Player (family name) 18 Everybody’s goalkeeper (first and family name) 20 Disputed triangle in the south 21 Jal’s first name Down 1 Number of states in Darfur 3 Sudanese Star Trek Star (first and family name) 4 Only Southern Head of State of Sudan. Luigi... 5 African Union’s mediator for Sudan and South Sudan (first and family name) 7 When two fight, it is the grass that suffers 8 Disputed triangle in the north 9 World’s largest swamp 14 Shakespeare in Juba Arabic 15 Capital and elephant’s trunk 19 Could be white, could be blue