Sudanese media ensure peaceful coverage of independence referendum

The independence referendum earlier this year which saw South Sudan vote to become the world’s newest nation, presented Sudanese media with the crucial task of enabling voters to make informed choices, and to ensure a peaceful channel for voicing opinion

Partial, but peace-fostering dominated Sudanese media’s coverage of South Sudan’s referendum for independence in the lead-up to and in the months following the vote for independence earlier this year. These are the findings of a new media monitoring report released by the Sudan Media and Elections Consortium, a group of organisations including IMS with expertise in media support.

Tracking coverage

To enable Sudanese media to reflect on and learn from their coverage, IMS and a number of other organisations under the Sudan Media and Election Consortium monitored the content of print and electronic media in the course of the referendum campaign to track the balance of coverage of opposing political parties, level of information and hate speech cases.

Lacking professionalism

The report presents an overview of Sudanese media’s coverage of the independence referendum process before and after the day of votong from December 2010 to April 2011. Through an extensive analysis of television, radio and print coverage, it finds that although the media’s coverage was extensive in both the South and North, it often lacked professionalism.

A number of cases of partiality were observed, with many media houses tending to mix news and personal opinion of the writer when presenting the two referendum options, but explicit bias was for the most part rare. One-sided reporting prevailed in all media and the two opposing fronts representing Unity and Secession were represented unevenly in northern and southern media.

Despite a polarised political situation, the media did manage to act out their role in providing a peaceful environment surrounding the referendum. A vast number of campaigns for voter education were carried out by both administrative referendum bodies and by the media houses themselves. Voters were explained how and when to vote, eligibility criteria, and disadvantaged groups such as women were encouraged to vote.

The referendum represented a crucial turning point for the democratic development of Sudan and was an opportunity for the citizens of South Sudan to express their will on the future of their region. The outcome will be celebrated July 9 on South Sudan’s first day of independence. To read more about the media’s coverage of the referendum, download the full report here.