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Africa

Sudan/South Sudan: "We need to aim for balanced reporting"

How can we keep the international media interested in crisis-ridden regions? And what role do the local media play in the Sudan/South Sudan conflict? German and Sudanese experts shared their views.

Even experienced reporters are sometimes stumped. "I really don't know," admitted Horand Knaup, Africa correspondent for the German news magazine, Der Spiegel. Last summer he reported extensively on South Sudan's road to independence but more than a year later there's little interest in Africa's newest state. And at times he gets tired of covering Africa's conflicts and catastrophes.

Media International: expert talk on Sudan and South Sudan at the ARD Hauptstadtstudio in Berlin, 21.09.2012 (photo: Eric Thevenet).

Arnd Henze, Stefan Maier, Horand Knaup (left to right)

"Then why not look at the positive examples in our countries?" asked Sudanese journalist, Belgees Fageri. She pointed to ethnically-mixed families who live peacefully together and beyond the political fray. Fageri works for the state Sudanese News Agency (SUNA). She, together with Knaup and other colleagues, joined the expert round Medien International hosted by DW Akademie and the ARD public broadcaster in Berlin. The discussion was part of a one-week media trialogue between journalists from Sudan, South Sudan and Germany. It was organized by DW Akademie with support from the German Foreign Office.

Stefan Maier, foreign desk reporter for the German SWR public broadcaster and former ARD correspondent, made it clear that a priority for news programs was to report on conflicts and said there were still many tensions in the region. "Still," he admitted, "television formats put limits on in-depth reporting and that doesn't do justice to the complex realities."

The panel experts discussed the difficult working conditions for journalists in both Sudan and South Sudan. The German journalists said Sudanese authorities often intentionally hindered their work. In South Sudan, however, the major obstacle was a lack of infrastructure.

Belgees Fageri and Fauzia Hezekia Paul from South Sudanese Radio (SSR), were more restrained in their comments, saying that critical journalists did not face reprisals. But other panel members sharply disagreed and pointed to massive repressions against journalists in Sudan and to widespread censorship. "Some of our experienced colleagues have given up and gone abroad and that’s a great loss for us."

In terms of how the two states report about each other, DW Akademie project manager Manuela Römer said there were no quick solutions for reducing mutual prejudices and tensions. "We're focusing on a long-term dialogue. Many media workers on both sides knew each other before South Sudan became independent and our goal is to keep that dialogue going." Belgees Fageri from Sudan and Fauzia Hezekia Paul from South Sudan nodded in agreement. "Our reports shouldn't be filled with anger," Paul said. "We need to aim for balanced reporting."