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August 31, 2008

A Reuters reporter saw...

Here's an interesting example of journalistic style from a story on today's court appearance of five men accused of murdering U.S. aid worker John Granville.

All five men wore beards and traditional white gowns, and a Reuters reporter at the court saw two of them spit in the faces of two Western women journalists before walking into the building with iron shackles on their ankles.

It would have been more informative but less journalistic to say:

All five men wore beards and traditional white gowns, and I saw two of them spit in the faces of my wife and a friend before walking into the building with iron shackles on their ankles.

Posted by aheavens at 5:32 PM

August 26, 2008

Winning Darfur's PR war

5am yesterday – Sudanese government forces surround Kalma camp for displaced persons in South Darfur

8.30am – Shooting begins after Sudanese forces enter camp, saying they are searching for weapons and suspects.

8.57am – Journalists receive first of many text messages from Darfur rebel Sudan Liberation Army faction left by Ahmed Abdel Shafie.

Hey, Over 100 GOS (Government of Sudan) vehicles surrounded Kalma camp this morning n prevented IDPs (internally displaced people) from leaving the camp from going on with their biz. Please call Abdelshafi 4 quick reaction.

Within the next hour other rebel groups and displaced people inside camp also phone in their updates, claiming many camp residents were killed and describing the incident as a “government attack”.

7.20pm – Reuters gets first quote from Sudanese army, saying armed camp residents started the fighting.

11.30pm – State news agency SUNA puts out first official statement about incident, denying death figures and claiming officers were fired on first.

Posted by aheavens at 3:58 PM

Sending citizen journalism to Coventry

Not feeling so enthusiastic about our brave new world of citizen journalism and "user-generated content" and "participatory journalism" and "democratic journalism" today.

The reason? This rather chilling article about the looming job cuts at the newspapers of Trinity Mirror Midlands in the UK.

Reporters, sorry, Multimedia Journalists (MMJs), are already struggling with bulging workloads. Their new role (should they get one) will include taking photographs, shooting video and writing directly to web pages... These new "multi-skilled" journalists spell job losses for 15 members of the papers-wide photographic team, as 39 roles turn into 24, with the shortfall of images being made up by reporters and hi-tech mobile phones...

...Four pages of "user-generated" content will be introduced in the Coventry Telegraph when the changes sweep in - an early indication of the surviving MMJs being replaced by Bob Jones of Hillfields et al.

Not so much a brave new world of journalism then, more a cut-price filler of space left by dead journalists. Something tells me those four pages of "user-generated" content are not going to be very near the front.

Posted by aheavens at 2:36 PM

August 22, 2008

News extras needed

Sudan's Bashir says strengthened by arrest bid
...Bashir rejected accusations that government forces were still attacking civilians and destroying villages in Darfur. He dismissed as propaganda Reuters video footage which showed militia carrying army identification in burned villages. "We have a long history of fabricated tapes by journalists who use people as actors. We have these tapes. This is not evidence," he said.

In fact there are a few bit parts coming up. If anybody wants to audition, get in touch via the email top right.

Posted by aheavens at 1:13 PM

August 21, 2008

The importance of an “if”

Apologies in advance. This is not going to be very interesting - unless "very interesting" for you includes following the minutiae of Sudanese politics and the journalistic efforts to keep up with it. But it feels good to get it off my chest.

So, it was panic stations this morning when most of Khartoum's Arabic newspapers came out with front page stories saying that Sudan's President Bashir had threatened to expel Darfur's UN/African Union peacekeepers. He would kick them out, said the reports, if the International Criminal Court issued an arrest warrant against him.

The stories were based on an interview he did with Al Arabiya TV while on his recent trip to Turkey.

Here is how the UN-funded Miraya FM reported on the interview earlier today:

President Al-Bashir announced that he will ask the UNAMID peacekeeping troops in Darfur to leave the country should the ICC issue an arrest warrant against him as requested by the Court's chief persecutor Moreno Ocampo last July.

Pretty dramatic stuff.

Then somebody had a closer look at what Bashir had actually said. The interviewer asked him whether the peacekeepers would be in danger if the arrest warrant was issued. He answered:

"It's not a threat by the Sudanese government...If we refuse the forces, the secretary general of the United Nations, we'd ask them to leave, we won't target the forces, which are originally African forces."

Note the "if". It basically means, 'We are not threatening the peacekeepers. And, even if we wanted to get rid of them, we wouldn't threaten them, we would just ask them to leave.'

Not so dramatic.

So, you would expect the government to issue a denial, and get back to waiting for the ICC decision.

Except that they haven't. And now the Sudanese Media Centre, an online news service seen as very close to the government, is taking up the original "threatened expulsion" line.

President Warns to Ask Exit of UNAMID if ICC Issues Arrest Warrant
The president held sideline press conference in Istanbul stating that he would go for war if that is necessary to protect sovereignty of the state. Moreover, he said he would ask exit of UNAMID if ICC issued an arrest warrant against him.

So what is going on here? Have they just not got round to issuing a denial yet? Or was it always meant as a dark hint that they might expel the peacekeepers if the arrest warrant comes through? Or is it more a case of 'Well, we didn't say that, but it's quite a dramatic line and should shake the UN up a bit so we'll stick with it for now?' Is this what it was like covering the Kremlin back in the days of the cold war?

Who knows? And who cares? And is anyone still reading this article anyway? If you are, and you are bored to tears, I did warn you.


By the end of the day, the UN held a meeting to discuss its response to a threat against it that was never actually made. A classic case of a story becoming true over time.

Sudan: UNAMID in talks to assess Al-Bashir's threat to expel it
Miraya FM on 21 August - The spokesperson of the United Nations African Mission in Sudan, Nur-al-Din Al Mazni told Miraya FM that the leadership of the mission is still holding meetings to assess the situation after president Al-Bashir threatened to expel its troops from Darfur.


So at last it has happened. The misrepresentation of the original interview has become so widespread that it has now become fact. Sudan's foreign minister has just done an interview explaining Bashir's threat to expel UNAMID.

Sudanese warning on peacekeepers a "political message" - foreign minister says
Al-Ahdath on 22 August - The minister of foreign affairs, Deng Alor, has refused to describe President Umar al-Bashir's threat to expel the hybrid [AU-UN] force as a declaration of war saying it was a political message to the international community. He further pointed out that procedures for declaring war were stipulated in the constitution.

Does this mean that UNAMID will now actually have to go if the arrest warrant is issued?

Posted by aheavens at 6:17 PM

August 18, 2008

The ICC and the "female factor"

A nice bit of old-school reporting from today's Sudan Tribune. 'Woman judges man' is clearly the new 'man bites dog'.

Female judges to determine the fate of Sudan president
Sudan Tribune 18/08/08

...The unique aspects of Al-Bashir's case don't stop here. All the judges of the Pre-Trial Chamber I happen to be females consisting of Akua Kuenyehia from Ghana, Sylvia Steiner from Brazil and Anita Usacka from Latvia.

...The female factor also arises in the application by the ICC's prosecutor against the Sudanese president. Ocampo alleged that rape in Darfur “has been committed systematically and continuously for 5 years”.

The italics are mine but might as well be theirs.

Posted by aheavens at 7:04 AM

August 17, 2008

Only in Sudan #1

Only in Sudan...would you have to dodge shotgun pellets on your evening jog.

We were half way round Khartoum race course when the pick-up came racing up on the inside lane. A man was standing up in the back chatting to two veiled women sitting on the bottom of the truck.

It was only when he got closer that we saw he was carrying a shiny grey pump-action shotgun. A flock of birds scattered as the truck braked hard. Then we saw what he was really aiming at - a pack of city dogs. They sprinted off and the pick-up followed in and out of the race course lanes, along the boundary wall, then back on to the track. Every so often he cracked off a shot that echoed back off the wall. Then the driver saw another pack and he was off after them again.

It would have been different if it had been a huge national park with acres of open land to shoot around in. But this was a smallish horse racing track, hemmed in with buildings, with a football match going on in the middle and about 15 joggers doing the rounds on a Sunday night.

Another strange thing was that we were the only ones who found it strange. Every time the pick-up weaved between another set of evening strollers to fire off another volley, we were the only ones who jumped.

Posted by aheavens at 5:23 PM

August 14, 2008

Darfur shrinks

It used to be so easy. If you wanted to give your readers an idea of the sheer scale of Darfur, you told them it was "about the size of France".

I've done it at least six times in the past year. (See this story from Tuesday.) And I've never had a complaint.

Then some busybody actually goes and does some measurements.

And it turns out that Darfur is actually quite a bit smaller than France.

The above busybody suggests Spain as a closer comparison. Personally, I've always been a stickler for accuracy. So, from now on, I am going to use Turkmenistan.

Figures from Mongabay apart from the Darfur statistic which was taken, on trust, from South of West (what do you expect - fact checking?)

Posted by aheavens at 9:16 AM

August 3, 2008

File under C for conspiracy

I was left on my own for a few minutes in the press office in the Sudanese embassy in London.

So, as you do, I had a quick scan of the bookshelves.

There was a row of black folders - each of them, presumably, holding a sheaf of press cuttings. One folder was labelled 'Darfur', another 'elections', another 'comprehensive peace agreement'. And last of all was a big fat dossier labelled 'US/Israeli interference in Africa'.

Posted by aheavens at 1:41 PM