I ‘ve watched, along with everyone else who cares, as news of protests, sit-ins, arrests, torture and then some more unfolded over the past two weeks. As a Sudanese, this is of great interest to me. As a human being who finds the very idea of Bashir and his cronies so repulsive that I keep a bucket by me as I write this.. I take great interest in the events, dubbed as Sudan Revolts (#SudanRevolts).
Activists, known and unknown started popping up on TV screens and magazines. So far, and even with those who consider themselves media savvy, I am completely unimpressed. But this is not what is of concern though. What concerns me (and should concern you) is the naive and hostile attitude toward international (and regional) media.
Sudan is a low-interest topic. It also has the (mis)fortune of being Egypt’s neighbor, which has an undeniable flare for drama that doesn’t seem to plan to stop. Ever. So this means that media is not going to cover your 100+ protest when there are tens of thousands in Tahrir waiting for their president to be sworn in. Egypt’s presidential elections and their aftermath are of far more significance to the world than Sudan’s protests. That’s simply the reality and it’s one we must recognize if we were to want to do something about it.
With all that being said, I see youtube videos and tweets continuing the line of “fuck the media, we don’t need them.” You need the media as much as the media needs you. It’s a relationship not a delivery service. Yes, there are editorial choices that reflect political policies of countries who own media outlets like Qatar’s Aljazeera, Saudi’s Al Arabiya and even now Abu Dhabi’s Sky News Arabia.
So, let us put aside the editorial decisions and imagine that is not a factor. You have a story and you want to sell it to the networks. The networks will look at it and decide based on a few things:
- Is this story interesting. This is a very basic level question. A cat rescued from a tree is not as interesting as a cat rescuing a baby from a burning tree. Or rather, 100 protesters in a university vs 10s of thousands in Tahrir. It’s not a hard call.
- What is my audience interested in? Some days are slow news days and others are not. Decisions are made based on what they think their audience would find more interesting. We all know, the Arab audience is not as engaged on Sudan’s issues as they are on Syria’s or Egypt’s or even Libya’s.
- What does the big boss want? This is where the political policies come to play. Decisions on whether to air something or what angle to take are the types of editorial decisions that are indeed influenced by politics.
The tragedy is that most Sudanese news stories don’t even make it through this process because they simply are not verifiable. Even if a story is interesting, unless it is verifiable at a very basic level, it is unlikely to see coverage. And if it does, it will be very light and lacking.
Activists and protesters may not need media, but it sure can help. Media coverage places pressure on governments to act. Not only the Sudanese government, but other governments as well. It’s like someone saying, “I can get from point A to point B with one leg, fuck the other leg!” Yes, they probably can.. but they might stumble. It is also a lot easier to have the two legs.
But it is beyond international pressure. It is also internal. With media blackouts inside Sudan, how do activists plan to let people know about what’s happening? By posting pictures and videos on social networks that no one can verify? You very quickly approach a point where no one wants to bother to view any picture or video because they have a proven track record of being bogus.
There are very few good and credible citizen journalists in Sudan. Even fewer ones who cover without emotion. Activism requires a lot of passion, but with that passion rationale takes a backseat. For that reason, any movement needs to have checks and balances to keep the passionate from losing control and to keep the rational from being cold and risk-averse.
Tonight marks the 10th day of Usamah Mohammed’s detention by the NISS. I consider Usamah a friend and someone I have a lot of respect for. Sudan doesn’t have a lot of Usamah’s, who will be factual and detailed in their coverage of any event or story. Through tweets or pictures or videos. I’m not sure how long activists can remain in denial about the importance of credible, verifiable news and its dissemination.
The regime is going to be toppled. I just don’t know if it will be at the hands of the activists or army generals. But if activists continue to ignore trying to understand media, it is unlikely that they can hop their way to the other side of the room with that one leg.
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