In January the people of Southern Sudan will vote on whether to become independent from the country's north. How professionally the media report on the planned referendum is playing a decisive role in the run-up.
Most forecasts predict the majority of the Southern Sudanese will vote for independence from the north. After the referendum, however, a number of contentious issues between the north and the south will remain unresolved. The main problem will be deciding on a future border, since this will determine who has access to enormous oil resources in the region. But a return to civil war between the two regions and conflicts between southern ethnic groups are also causes for concern.
Professional, independent and objective reporting is particularly challenging in this situation, especially for radio, the most important information medium in states outside the capital, Yuba. In November, DW Akademie trained local radio journalists from throughout the south to report responsibly in conflict situations and so help avoid escalation.
At the same time a second team of trainers worked with local directors from divisions of the Ministry of Information based in the priority states. The goal was to establish professional practices and standards for working with the media. "In a tense situation like this the media are quickly perceived as agitators and troublemakers," says Tilman Rascher, Head of DW Akademie's Middle East and North Africa Division.
In joint workshop sessions the journalists and local ministry directors were able to meet each other and practice their newly-acquired skills. "The journalists realized the directors are contact persons who can potentially open doors in the region. And the directors lowered their reservations regarding the media and saw the opportunities that local radios can offer," Rascher points out.
This year representatives from local non-governmental organizations will also become part of the process. "This is a further step in the right direction for us," says Rascher. "We're moving away from working just with the media and towards sustainable media development."
Meanwhile, DW Akademie is continuing its work with the state broadcaster Southern Sudan Radio - with positive results. The new, political background magazine program "Forum" now has a set place in SSR's program planning. And shortly before the referendum DW Akademie will again provide on-the-job training to the magazine program's editors and reporters.