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Sudan: President answers watchdog’s questions on media freedom

BBC Monitoring

Text of press release by Paris-based organization Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) on 30 May

    During a visit to Sudan from 17 to 22 March, Reporters Without Borders submitted three questions in writing to President Umar Al-Bashir about the national and international media's problems in Sudan, with the aim of incorporating his answers in its report, "Darfur: An investigation into a tragedy's forgotten actors." In the absence of any reply, the report was issued on 17 April without them. His office nonetheless sent his responses at the end of May.

    Reporters Without Borders - Many journalists who have been denied entry into Sudan have covered the crisis from Chad or have entered the country illegally. As a result, their reports are incomplete, as the Sudanese government has often complained. Would it not be better for the government to make it easier for the international press to enter Sudan in order to show that it has nothing to hide and to get its views reflected?

    President Bashir - Of course, we have nothing to hide... Dozens of foreign media and journalists have entered our country. Following the rules and the formalities, they have been able to go where they like during their visit and meet all those they wanted to see. Then they went home. They published what they published, they omitted what they omitted, and they distorted that they distorted... Despite that, our doors are always open to all the international media, even those who display hostility towards us and misrepresent us. We hope that everyone will display honesty and professionalism.

    Reporters Without Borders - The Sudanese press complains, among other things, of a lack of material and financial resources to cover developments throughout the country, including the states of Northern, Western and Southern Darfur. Does the government intend to support the Sudanese media financially, so that they can send journalists into the field and report the realities of the conflict?

    President Bashir - In our country, there are around 50 daily newspapers published by entities with similar financial capacities. The state does not own any newspaper. Every facility is provided so that each newspaper and journalist can go into the field. We work to promote the press, but a press that meets readers' expectations... We have noted that the profits from the sales of certain newspapers were not ploughed back into the press sector. That in itself shows that media owners lack a desire to develop their businesses. On the one hand, how could we support all these newspapers when our budget is limited.

    On the other, how could we choose some and not others? How could we guarantee that what is published by the only newspaper to be subsidized is not considered the result of its being in the government's pay? This would be a questionable situation and we do not want to go down that road unless it is done transparently and fairly. One should not forget that in many cases the finance ministry already pays for newspapers' licences. Firstly as a service to the reader, and then to the newspaper.

    Reporters Without Borders - Several foreign radio stations broadcast programmes to Sudan without restriction. But Radio Miraya, the radio station of the Hirondelle Foundation and the United Nations, is not authorised to broadcast outside of southern Sudan. Why does the government not allow Radio Miraya to broadcast its programmes throughout the country including the north and west?

    President Bashir - The right of terrestrial and satellite broadcasting is governed by laws applied by specialised agencies. As regards the United Nations station, its statutes are rather special as it has a mandate to cover the peace accords with the South, and as a result is limited to that region of the country. The role of this station and its correspondents is to monitor the cease-fire in the south of the country, to steer the populations towards danger-free zones and to reassure them.

    Source: Reporters Sans Frontieres press release, Paris, in English 30 May 07



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