On March 4, 2009, Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir was accused of murdering, raping, torturing, and forcibly displacing large numbers of civilians from the region of Darfur. It was the first warrant of arrest ever issued by the International Criminal Court to a sitting head of state.
And EDC’s Sudan Radio Service (SRS) caught the historic event on tape.
This breaking news—reported by Sudan’s first radio station operating independently from its government—echoed across Africa’s largest nation.
“We had several reporters working on the arrest warrant story,” says EDC’s Jon Newstrom, who manages SRS.
The journalists at SRS work out of headquarters in Nairobi, Kenya, and at bureaus throughout Sudan. And now, they also cover the region that al-Bashir stands accused of devastating for the Darfur News and Information Service (DNIS).
All of the reporters are Sudanese, and most have built their skills through on-the-job training. At SRS, daily news meetings serve as Journalism 101 lessons. But the relative lack of experience has not hindered the six-hour-a-day programming.
Established by EDC, with support from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), SRS set out to provide balanced, unbiased news—for example, programming on the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement between the north and the south, as well as on politics, education, health, agriculture, culture, and gender equity—to a nation that faces a long list of media restrictions. Now in its sixth year, SRS has done just that.
“The only other all-news radio station in Sudan now is state run. It airs what the government wants you to hear,” says Newstrom.
Instead, thousands tune in to SRS’s flagship program about conflict resolution called “Road to Peace,” or learn about malaria or HIV/AIDS on “Health for All by All.” They listen to stories about their neighbors, for example, a boy who scavenges for valuables at a dump near Juba (photo above).
In the wake of 48 years of civil conflict between the north and the south, which began after Sudan declared independence in 1956, SRS’s coverage is vital to the peace process.
So EDC has expanded broadcasting in Sudan to support the fragile process.
In January, EDC launched DNIS through a two-year U.S. Department of State grant. The broadcast currently airs one hour a day on a separate frequency and is produced by the staff at SRS.
DNIS programming is designed for internally displaced people—nearly 2.5 million since the conflict in Darfur broke out in 2003—and other vulnerable populations. The ultimate goals are to inform listeners, encourage constructive dialogue, mitigate tensions, and build the skills of Darfuri journalists.
In late 2009, SRS will open an FM station in Juba, the capital of semi-autonomous southern Sudan, where the government has begun to relax its constraints on the media. SRS and DNIS airtime will increase from 6 to 15 hours a day.
“SRS will provide the Juba audience with their first comprehensive news and information radio station,” says Newstrom. “There are many other FM stations in Juba now, but none with the kind of programming SRS provides and none in the languages we offer.”
Meanwhile, SRS and DNIS will continue to broadcast morning and evening daily programs in English, Arabic, and 11 Sudanese languages throughout Sudan.
“Battery-powered radios are by far the most common and effective news outlet. TV takes electricity—and that is something that is limited,” says Newstrom. “In addition, a large part of the population is illiterate and doesn’t read newspapers.”
And the staff of 30 reporters will continue to deliver the latest on the arrest warrant for al-Bashir and what ensues.
“The Comprehensive Peace Agreement set Sudan’s first-ever elections for 2009,” says Newstrom. “But they were just postponed until 2010. That’s when a new president and new parliaments in the north and south will be elected for the first time ever.”
Originally published on July 13, 2009