'Referendum fever' ails divided media
JUBA - There is a referendum fever in southern Sudan as the people of the semi-autonomous region prepare to vote in a landmark event on January 9, 2011.
The voices advocating for an independent southern Sudan are getting louder. Activists and politicians are taking their campaigns to schools to educate children who in turn will educate their parents.
“Go and tell your parents to vote for separation,” one activist was shown on the government-owned SSTV telling pupils in a primary school in the southern capital, Juba.
With only two months away from the referendum day, children in schools in southern Sudan are getting politicized. On SSTV a pupil asked a school assembly:
“Did we have paved roads during the war? Was our school well built like this?” And the children roared “nooooo!”
The people of southern Sudan have been living in relative peace in the last six years of the interim period since the comprehensive peace agreement was signed in January 2005, in Nairobi, Kenya, ending Africa’s longest war of 21 years.
According to the CPA the people of southern Sudan and the contested area of Abyei – which lies between southern Sudan and northern Sudan – will vote in a plebiscite on January 9, 2011 to decide their political future.
A majority of southern Sudanese seem to be more concerned about the southern Sudan referendum. And the main focus of the Sudanese media, both independent and state-owned, is the referendum in southern Sudan.
With the traditional north-south divide, the media are equally divided. Newspapers are visibly biased towards one of the two options: Unity of the Sudan, or the possible independence of southern Sudan.
Northern or Khartoum-based media that are largely sympathetic to the National Congress Party are pro-unity of the country, while southern or Juba-based media that are sympathetic to the Sudan Peoples’ Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the southern cause are pro-independence of southern Sudan. This leaves only a handful of independent media houses that present the two options of unity and separation. And this goes without saying that propaganda and even hate speech are becoming rife in some sections of the Sudanese media.
It was against this background that the Media Project organized a media workshop in the southern Sudanese capital, Juba, from October 25-26, 2010. The workshop was on Press Freedom and Religion in the Upcoming Referendum. The workshop attracted 19 media practitioners, mainly young reporters who are confronted daily with the challenges of the profession, more so on reporting, informing and educating audiences on the referendum process.
When he presented two papers on the role of journalism and journalists during the referendum and media ethics in multi-cultural society, the Chief Executive Officer of The Media Project, Dr Arne H. Fjeldstad was emphatic on fair, accurate and balanced reporting, especially during the referendum. He also urged the participants to adhere to media ethics.
Reflecting on the history of the media in Sudan, a paper that was presented by veteran Sudanese journalist, Atem Yaak Atem, the minister of Information in the Government of southern Sudan Dr Barnaba Marial said the history of journalism in the Sudan is painful because during the war journalists operated under a repressive regime.