Sudan - Darfur: An investigation into a tragedy's forgotten actors

    MONTREAL, April 18 /CNW Telbec/ - After a fact-finding visit to Sudan
from 17 to 22 March, Reporters Without Borders is issuing a report on the
country's press and civil society, shedding a new light on the misleading
image of a "land of massacres" closed to the world and dominated by a
dictatorial and monolithic regime.
    The janjaweed militiamen are used "by a racist regime that is in many
respects worse than the apartheid regime in South Africa, which at least had
the dignity not to employ rape as a tactic of suppression." Did this scathing
remark appear in the New York Times or Le Nouvel Observateur, two newspapers
known for criticising the Sudanese government? No, surprising as it may seem,
it was made in an editorial in the Citizen, a Khartoum daily, on 18 March. And
there was no angry reaction from the government.
    After a fact-finding visit to Sudan from 17 to 22 March, Reporters
Without Borders today issued a report entitled "Darfur: An investigation into
a tragedy's forgotten actors," in which the press freedom organisation tries
to contribute new elements to the international debate about the tragedy which
the peoples of western Sudan have been enduring.
    The Reporters Without Borders team found that the Sudanese press, like
the country's society as a whole, is both active and diverse. Even in Darfur,
the team was able to talk to members of a very real civil society, one that is
aware of the unfolding tragedy and the challenges it must face. The newspapers
published in Khartoum are also very diverse and reflect the voices of Sudanese
human rights activists, university researchers and other civil society actors,
voices that find it hard to make themselves heard outside Sudan.
    Contrary to the prevailing media image, Reporters Without Borders found
that Sudan is not "a land of massacres, a terra incognita in which the 21st
century's first genocide is unfolding in Darfur, out of sight, without
foreigners reporting what is happening, without any Sudanese voicing
criticism." The reality is much more complicated and often contradictory.
    Like many wars around the world, Darfur's crisis poses complex coverage
problems for both the national and international media. The intrinsic problems
- the large number of armed factions, the absence of a "front line," the
hostile nature of the terrain and lack of a distinction between combatants and
civilians - are deliberately compounded by the "bureaucratic fence" which the
government in Khartoum has erected around the war zone to try to "regulate"and
influence the work of the press (which the report describes).
    These difficulties explain why Sudan is seen as a country closed to the
world, one where every possible kind of massacre could take place in secrecy.
    The international media react to these obstructions by approaching their
coverage of Darfur in a spirit of "resistence" to a government perceived as
"hostile," the report concludes. When reporting the worst atrocities, foreign
journalists may sometimes offer a stereotyped image of Sudan focused solely on
the suffering in Darfur, without taking account of the historical causes of
the crisis or the solutions proposed by Sudanese civil society, whose very
existence, diversity and commitment seem unknown to many of them.
    In its conclusions, Reporters Without Borders recommends that the
Sudanese government should take all necessary measures to open up the country
to the foreign press and to increase a dynamic civil society's freedom or
action; that international organisations should take account of local
realities, above all by supporting Sudanese civil society, and should overhaul
their communication methods; and that the international media should not
neglect the "forgotten actors" of the crisis, in order to portray Sudan in all
its diversity and help it to resolve its internal contradictions.

    Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press
freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium,
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has
representatives in Bangkok, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it has
more than 120 correspondents worldwide.

For further information:

For further information: Emily Jacquard, Canadian office representative,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514)

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