Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Despite the ongoing conflict in Darfur and the failed attempts to broker peace between the government of Sudan and the Darfuri rebel movements, the media environment remained relatively stable during 2007, marked by a freer environment and less violence against journalists in the southern part of the country. The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement in 2005, which ended the civil war between the north and the south, initiated a process of constitutional reform that brought about some positive changes for the media, such as the lifting of official censorship and an interim constitution that provides for freedom of thought and of expression. Nonetheless, there are no existing laws that explicitly guarantee freedom of the press. Sudanese authorities continue to use arbitrary measures to limit press freedom. In fact, the government often invokes the code of criminal procedure to suspend media outlets for covering sensitive issues, including the conflict in Darfur, even though the code was not designed to address the media. Media outlets are also required to employ security personnel to review stories prior to publication. Another way that authorities control the media is through the government-influenced National Press Council, which is responsible for licensing and has the power to suspend journalists and newspapers. Entry into the media is difficult unless one is a supporter of the government, and all journalists must pass a difficult Arabic-language exam regardless of what language they intend to write in. Restrictions on covering the Darfur region continued in 2007 when the National Press Council issued a ban in March on coverage of the prosecution of crimes committed in Darfur and a ban in May on publishing information on Darfuri rebel activities. Nonetheless, these bans were not always explicitly enforced. Draft media legislation on freedom of information, public service broadcasting, and the establishment of new print and broadcast regulators are in the early stages of review, although press freedom advocacy groups have expressed concerns about the absence of discussion during the drafting process and restrictive provisions that would allow for continued government control over the media.
Throughout 2007, journalists faced harassment, attacks, intimidation, and direct censorship at the hands of both government and nongovernmental forces. Among other instances of harassment, on February 1, authorities closed the private Arabic-language daily Al-Sudani for several days because it violated a direct ban against publishing coverage of the murder of Mohammed Taha Mohammed Ahmed, former editor in chief of the private daily Al-Wifaq who was beheaded in 2006. The suspension was lifted only after the charges were overturned on appeal based on the claim that only the National Press Council had authorization to ban media outlets. In May, the minister of justice charged Al-Sudani with defamation following an editorial calling for the minister’s resignation due to corruption allegations and detained the paper’s editor along with another journalist for several days. In June, authorities detained four journalists representing private papers based in the capital, Khartoum, for attempting to report on protests against the Kajbar Dam in the northern Nubian region, and several journalists working for the private Al-Midan and Al-Sahafa newspapers received death threats in December for reporting on the Darfur conflict. Access for foreign reporters to the Darfur region remained sporadic during the year, with severe restrictions in place during the first two months of the year and some correspondents being denied visas or travel permits. Nevertheless, some reporters gained access with government permission or by entering via Chad, though the intensity of the conflict frequently prevented them from traveling around once there. In April, British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) correspondent Jonah Fisher left the country following an expulsion order that was issued in March for his coverage of the region. Separately, Nichola Dominic Mandil, a Sudanese producer for the U.S. government–funded Sudan Radio Service, was abducted and severely beaten by members of the state security forces for allegedly “being a foreign agent in Sudan promoting American ideology.” There are many private newspapers in Sudan—though none are currently able to function regularly in Darfur—and private ownership is common. Although most newspapers experienced intense scrutiny from authorities, they represented a wide range of views, from state-owned Arabic and English outlets, to those that offer a southern Sudanese perspective, to critical opposition publications. Some private papers employ columnists who regularly criticize President Omar al-Bashir’s policies. Nonetheless, a significant amount of self-censorship, particularly among the Arabic-language outlets, continued to pervade the media even among independent publications. The English-language media were less prone to this problem and often reprinted critical articles from Western media outlets. In late 2007, the country’s first free newspaper, Al-Hadath, was launched in Khartoum, and while it has since changed its business model owing to distribution problems, it managed to obtain a significant share of the market. The al-Bashir administration in Khartoum runs one Arabic- and one English-language newspaper. In contrast with the more diverse press, the government dominates the broadcast media, the main source of information for much of Sudan’s population. Television broadcasts are formally censored, and radio content is required to reflect the government’s views. However, Arabic satellite channels such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya are popular in Sudan and are increasingly relied upon as an alternative to the progovernment domestic television and radio stations. In addition, some foreign radio stations are available, such as the BBC, which broadcasts in Khartoum and other points in the north and south, and several opposition and clandestine stations are available via shortwave frequencies.
Internet penetration in Sudan is among the highest in sub-Saharan Africa, with just under 4 percent of the population able to access this medium in 2007. However, internet access is limited to urban areas and is still low by global standards. The government has not traditionally displayed much interest in censoring this new medium, apart from the blocking of pornographic content, other sites that are deemed offensive, and proxy servers, and there were generally no restrictions on access to news websites. Political debates flourished on forums such as sudaneseonline.com, sudaneseoffline.com, and sudanile.com, which are also highly popular among the Sudanese diaspora. However, there were reports that the government monitored e-mail activity and other forms of online communication.
Press freedom conditions in southern Sudan are better than in areas controlled directly by Khartoum. Journalists in the south are not as restricted as those in the north and have more leeway to criticize government policies. Five private media outlets operated in the region throughout the year. Nonetheless, it could not be said that there is a free press environment even in southern Sudan, as security personnel regularly take the liberty of punishing media outlets for negative coverage. There were reports, however, that the editor of the Juba-based English-language newspaper Citizen was detained for a day following the paper’s coverage of an alleged corruption scandal within the Finance Ministry. In addition, many Sudanese from the south displaced by the civil war still remain in the more populous north of the country, and most facilities for the production and distribution of media content are concentrated in Khartoum.