Adam Westbrook // ideas on digital storytelling and publishing

Sudan: why “never again” means nothing (II)

Posted in Uncategorized by Adam Westbrook on September 7, 2006

I recently wrote on the failings the UN, US and UK in intervening and preventing the genocide which is occuring in Darfur. A UN report recently declared that killings in Sudan were not genocide, conflicting with Colin Powell’s initial description. But if Rwanda 1994 tought us anything, it’s not to piss about deciding what counts as genocide and what doesn’t; 500,000 people from the Fur and other tribes have been systematically and brutally wiped out, because of their ethnicity. That is genocide.

I decided though that although the international community hasn’t dealt with Darfur well, lessons have been learned from Rwanda. The UN passed a resolution for 17,000 troops to enter as a peacekeeping force, which, although stalled by President Bashir, is still better than trying to get the hell out of there, which was what happened in April 1994.

The news media, however, has not learned its lesson.

Rwanda again

The Rwandan genocide and its coverage was one of the biggest failings of journalism in the last 30 years. A report by a scholar at MIT narrowed the media’s failings to four distinct problems:

  1. The press didn’t realise genocide was happening until long after it had started.
  2. They reported violence was waning when in fact it was getting worse.
  3. Mortality estimates were gross underestimates – the NYT suggesting 8,000 on the 10th April.
  4. Most western journalists got the hell out as soon as they could (April 14th)

The result of the last point was that coverage virtually stopped and the world didn’t realised it was happening. I was only 10 at the time of the Rwandan genocide, but my mother, then in her mid-thirties, said she was barely aware of the events.

So, major flaws, and flaws which should have been addressed. But they haven’t.

A whole decade later, I am seeing the same mistakes being repeated by a news media that should know better.

No coverage

On a humanitarian level, is the situation in Darfur not the worst on the planet? Are there not more people dying unneccessarily in horrible ways than anywhere at the present time? If you watch the news in Europe or the US, you wouldn’t think so. Steve Irwin’s untimely death this week received 1000 times more coverage than the 500,000 thousand Sudanese who died shortly before he did.

Last year, Darfur was the crisis du jour. But as soon as Bob Geldof shut his trap, the western media has simply forgotten about Sudan. This week the crisis has elicited 1 or 2 articles in each of the major papers in Britain plus the odd commentary – an improvement on the past 11 months. The broadcast media meanwhile has been silent, bar Focus on Africa etc. There are few reporters posted in Sudan and even fewer venture into Darfur.

Not all bad

There are shimmering stars of exception. Nima Elbagir has reported several times from Darfur for the UK’s More4 News (which only gets a few 100,000 viewers). In May 2006, she revealed accusations that AU soldiers had been raping refugees under their protection. She is an exceptional journalist and of Sudanese origin which makes things easier. But she is alone in the journalists willing to spend long in camps or villages in Western Sudan.

The BBC’s stringer currently in Sudan is Jonah Fisher. He’s currently holed up in Khartoum, and I haven’t seen or heard of him covering Darfur itself. Can anyone name another European or American journalist currently out in Darfur bringing attention to the pregnant genocide? Have they all forgotten what happened before?

Of course, Darfur is a difficult place to report from. Jonah Fisher received a roughing up at the hands of Sudanese police not long ago, and of course this week, thousands flocked to the funeral of a Sudanese newspaper editor brutally beheaded. But let’s not forget that there were more than enough journalists willing to brave the elements in the race to Baghdad.

So what?

This really matters. If you’re wondering why the world has not stepped into stop a genocide it knows is happening, the answer is simple. People don’t care. They don’t care, because they don’t understand.

This is why we need news media coverage of the Sudan crisis more than ever before.

And this doesn’t just mean reporting events – journalists must show us we need to give a damn about Sudan. This is a country the size of western Europe, on the brink of splintering into a hundred bloody pieces. This is a country that borders some of Africa’s most fragile states – Chad, Dr Congo, Somalia.

There is still a detatchment between western journalism and Africa – an “us and them” complex that relegates African and other developing world news to the Coca-Cola league of news, rarely getting an audience. But in 10 years time people will look back at Darfur and wonder how the hell we let it happen – and the reason? Because we didn’t know it was happening.

More links

Here’s some more interesting links:

“Less Valuable Lives?” : an original Adam Meets World blog about racism in the British media

Darfur: An Unforgivable Hell On Earth – an excellent blog I just discovered today

Why Darfur was left to it’s pitiful state – an opinion piece by David Blair of the Daily Telegraph.

4 Responses

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  1. Jonah Fisher said, on September 19, 2006 at 4:40 pm

    You should really check your facts before printing such rubbish. Currently writing this from Tawila North Darfur . Have been here umpteen times.
    Reuters currently have an exceptional journalist reporting from Sudan. Even a cursory knowledge of Google would have helped you to work that out.

  2. Darfur Diaries « Adam Meets World said, on November 14, 2006 at 4:38 pm

    […] For months many bloggers – myself included – have been banging on about how terrible the Darfur crisis is, and how poorly the international media are covering it. But we’ve all been left in the dust by Aisha Bain, Jen Marlowe and Adam Shapiro, who’ve all gone out and done something about it. […]

  3. Farrah Scarber said, on April 26, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    Lydia Polgreen of The New York Times recently won a prestigious Polk award for her reporting on Darfur.

    The following services have regular coverage. Reuters, AP, AFP, BBC, VOA, Bloomberg, UPI, Xinhau

    The New York Times, the Washinton Post, the Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, National Public Radio, PBS, CBS and CNN all report (not infrequently) on Darfur.

    Perhaps rather than dreaming of working as an international reporter and, in the meantime, casting stones at those who actually do, you might ship yourself off to Sudan and join the fray.

    Best to you.

  4. oleng john said, on September 23, 2009 at 1:20 pm

    UN body should do something /suply food and medicine just see how the sudanses is dying of hunger. thanx oleng from Africa


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