How can the alternative media be strengthened and sustainably harnessed?
By Mohamed S. M. Yassin
Sudan is a conflict-affected and protracted crises reality where the media is facing enormous challenges, constraints and soft process of polarization. The Media under the regime of Sudan is progressively undergoing a process of securitization and adopting sophisticated numbing tactics and modalities. Freedom of expression in Sudan is twisted by a Sudanese apartheid regime, directly governing the state for almost three decades during which most of the independent media operated and replaced, displaced or forced to silence. The Regime is aggressively conducting and implementing a sort of empowerment policies for those who share or inline with its Islamo-Arabization orientation and disempowerment of all those who are rejecting this so-denominated civilization project in all the media outlets, read, listened and seen and recently trying to expand its cultural oppression to the digital media domain as well. Sudanese communities are excluded, numbed and deprived from the right to have free information and diversity of media outlets as a fundamental right of expression and assembly. Therefore, a community media as an alternative media strengthening and support mechanisms in the Sudanese protracted crises and conflict-affected territories is an imperative necessity for this dire reality. In today’s world and with special emphasis on dilapidated Sudanese contemporary and in the context of the continuous struggle, there is enough knowledge but little courage to address chronic and complex challenges especially in the Media fronts, though there are encouraging signals of mobilization to break the silence and win the fear. Thus, there are attempts of thinking in identifying, selecting and implementing paradigm shifts from the conventional elite media and knowledge sharing to community media, knowledge and experience sharing at large including the average citizen, and furthermore, from State-monopolized media to community-managed media as a necessity and likely basic need for the Sudanese numbed communities. The tyrannical regimes prevailing in Sudan is erecting every possible constraining barriers and denying the access of media houses to that territories targeted by their discriminative, sophisticated modern local apartheid, scorched earth policies and at the same time practicing horrible numbing on its population. This regime has the complete State-owned or para-statal Media monopoly and absolutely do not allow any transmission of whatsoever informative news unless it undergo through rigorous control, often if not always done through dedicated security apparatus. Logically, this gloomy situation necessitates rapid and concrete actions and interventions, in particular additional and alternative media to silence-break and inform a wider public about those inhuman circumstances. Therefore, ad hoc concrete, consistent, constructive and coordinated alternative media strengthening and supportive mechanisms should be put in place to scale-up the existing fragmented and scattered local Sudanese traditional and innovative media agencies serving the local communities. New media supportive and strengthening services can be realized through web-based media tools such as web-radio, web-based TV, as well as Media Networking Smart Mechanisms. This is also possible and obtainable following innovative partnering modality. Shared visionary media projects and programs can be identified, implemented, maintained and sustained with minimum financial and economic costs and maximum social and cultural benefits for the potential partnering stakeholders. For these motivations multi-player projects, programs can be suggested in a shifting and evolving vision of media knowledge and experience sharing. Thus, participated media support projects and programs should prioritise to be SMART, simple, miserable, actionable, result-based, and time-bounded. The principal requirements for the success and sustainability of relative and relevant proposals can be identified in hard and soft infrastructures frameworks in addition to the voluntary human resource and political will. The inter-university international cooperation and community solidarity for development, among other actors can play major and proactive role in the Sudanese transformational shifts, change and beyond.
As already known, for decades and decades in the African continent and in particular in Sudan prior to its political split, and even till today people have been living in dire humanitarian situations under the eyes and conscious of the entire world except for the Numbed Sudanese themselves. The armed conflicts and successive civil wars have reduced some Sudanese communities to the limits, especially in the deprived areas. The combined marginalization and oppression witnessed are aggravating factors especially in situation of absent, silent or silenced media. Currently, many Sudanese territories are hardly accessible and completely isolated from the media world for diversity of reasons and constraints.
Even the humanitarian organizations are not allowed to denounce and voice out the deteriorating and dire situations in terms of food and nutrition insecurity, absence of reliable education structures and systems, complete lack of sanitary and health infrastructure, resource grabbing, money laundering, green-washing, social and environmental injustice and exclusion, poor governance mechanisms, not to talk about the tragic daily aerial bombardment causing massive displacements towards all the domestic and neighbouring countries, continental and intercontinental mass migration and exodus.
Especially, in the marginalized and impoverished territories, in urban slums, rural dwells, peripheral rural-urban outskirts, refugee’s camps as well as reaching the populations under siege in the caves, wondering in the bush, forests, mountains and valleys. An impelling media hard and soft infrastructures are needed to be a disseminative base for just peace, social justice and cohesion, rule of law, respect of universal human rights, democratic transformation and smooth transition from warring mentalities to peaceful and co-liveable spirits, and above all human dignity restitution. The innovative social digital media and ICT can assist in that prospective and would play a proactive role in the service of the Sudanese communities and within the continent and around the globe. To address this challenging reality, there is a need to identify, suggest and implement practical solutions to this problematic scenario, considering the context specificity of the deteriorating Sudan.
Alternative media have historically been a central force in social change. However, they do not uniformly subvert the hierarchies of access that have always been fundamental to mainstream media. In fact, the media or journalistic norms and routines have always drawn on the professional standards of the mainstream. The perception of ‘mainstream’ and ‘alternative’ as a misconception arguing that they have always existed on the same continuum and continue to converge . In conflict-borne realities, alternative activist and community-managed media can play the role of the mainstream conventional media and the digital revolution is paving the pathways to the attainment and accomplishment of this affinity.
Media is related to different communication typologies, for instance, in scientific communications, communicating to the public involve three main groups of actors (scientist, journalist and the public) . Likewise, in isolated conflict-affected areas, the communication mainly involves politicians (militarized or civil), ITC professionals and the dynamic public (communities). Media is a medium for the human development structuring, conduction and performance maintenance. As long as the human development is a process of enlarging people’s choices—as they acquire more capabilities and enjoy more opportunities to use those capabilities to enhance well-being. Media is entrusted to inform the persons about the essence of the human development and that it their development implies that people are not only beneficiaries of development, but must influence the process that shapes their lives. Media is entrusted to inform and form the collective conscious about the rights to development in social, environmental and economic dimension, and importantly that in all this, economic growth is an important means to human development, but not the goal as there is no automatic link between economic growth and human development. In today’s world, the Media is shouldered by more responsibilities of surpassing the limits of not only informing and influencing but to providing elements of information rights and ownership.
Some consideration and appreciation also should be spent on the role of the International Media present in Sudan, though some of them are donor-driven media, who sometimes reports on the Sudanese dire reality, while keeping low profiles and sometimes being anodyne in their reporting or operation in consideration of not to be expelled. International media correspondents suffer a lot in getting their permission or license realized and renewed, and in many times they are denied the free movement within the country, which is a typical regime blackmailing and corrupted tactics.
In Sudan, there is complex dilemma of lack of peace, security, and stability associated with a participated sustainable development and appropriate governance aggravated by lack of deliberative democracy and respect of the basic and fundamental human rights. The government is calling for peace while at the same time contradicting itself by igniting wars against its own populations. Calling and imposing securitized cordon on itself while its security apparatus is jeopardizing the security of its opponents by jailing and sending them to pseudo-voluntary exile or at least neutralizing or silencing them through fear and terror. The regime is trading stability while destabilizing elsewhere. It is pretending democracy through falsified electorate and buying and selling supportive pseudo-opponents. It is deceiving the governance system through decorative figures entrusted to reflect an apparent diversity and participation in the governance mechanisms. Arrogantly and falsely defending the human rights while filling its jails, detention and torture centres with thousands and thousands of opponents and political rivals and rejecters to its injustice and barbaric assaults on public wealth and authority. It is evident that the regime is adapting and adopting oppressive tactics, strategies and deliberated policies of igniting and sustaining conflicts in the country to trade on it. Knowing that the conflict avails a disabling environment for the Sudanese who are calling for their rights in development and justice, but continue to deepen and widening it. For staying in that dilemma and limbo, it is exercising numbing and regime oriented propagandistic state-and para-statal media. Therefore, the alternative Media, especially the social and community based media, are vital for the Sudanese communities who are exposed to cultural transient and transformational environments and deserve to be included in enabling and empowering information technology and communication projects and programs, which will allow and enhance their capability expressions for full economical, social, political and cultural inclusion and participation in non deprivable developmental arena.
Departing from a previously published paper on the alternative media strengthening and support mechanism in African protracted crises and conflict-affected territories: can paradigm shifts assist and relief?, a paper presented by Mohamed Yassin and Renato Kizito and published in the proceedings of the III Congress of the Italian University network for development Universities (CUCS2013) held in Torin, Italy 19-21 September 2013. The theme was imagining cultures of cooperation: university networking to face the new development challenges. In our Sudanese case, we have not embarked in the old development process to indulge in the new development challenges, which are touching and affecting the Sudanese population. The Author is writing a discussion working paper on the role of the alternative media in Sudan and posing some questions on how can the alternative media be supported, enhances, strengthened, sustainably sustained to play its role.
Media knowledge sharing and education does not necessary travel hand in hand with the major Media Freedom and the wealth of the nations does not necessarily reflect media freedom and immunity from manipulations.
This introductory abstract and concepts are circulated to stakeholders for participation in answer the following questions. Answers could be sent written, orally registered, or through direct interviews and e-consultations or in a format of storytelling and experience sharing. The expected feedbacks will be elaborated and shared with public upon completion. The methodology to be adapted and adopted and followed for the extension of this discussion working paper is a blend of direct experience and observations of the Author, simple open-ended ad hoc questionnaire basing through e-consultation and posting in digital media outlets; and lastly but not least semi-structured interviews with privileged informants.
The direct experience of the author will be reported in a sort of story telling additional to others to be narrated by the other and engaged stakeholders, being from and living in protracted crises and conflict-affected territory in Sudan and neighbouring countries. Worth to mention that, the protracted crises and conflict-affected territories are characterized by the longevity and succession of crises, prevalence of aid flow and fragile economic and food and nutrition security status.
The questionnaire is composed of seven core compulsory questions and 2 optional enquiries. The core questions asked are the following:
1. What role can the alternative media play in Sudan?
2. Do you agree that the Alternative Media is playing major roles than the conventional Media? If yes, please explain.
3. How can the Alternative Media be strengthened and sustainably supported?
4. How can the International Media engage with or assist in supporting the Sudanese Alternative Media?
5. How do you evaluate the Sudanese alternative media position in terms of ICT and e-learning specially in the context of the protracted-crises and conflict-affected realities?
6. Do you agree that Media Knowledge and Experience sharing are effective in pushing towards major Mediatisation and Mass Communication Educational Scaling-up? If yes, please explain
7. Do you know any sort of innovative social Media, capacity building, ITC and or e-learning instrument applicable in protracted-crises and conflict-affected realities?
While the optional enquiries were:
8. What sort of improvement and/or inquiry can be added to the questionnaire provided?
9. Do you have any additional inquiry to add? If yes, what is it?
Other complimentary questions:
What are the requirements to create effective and efficient functional alternative media?
What are the potentials of the alternative media?
What type of professionalism is needed to create and support the alternative media?
What are the major missions of the writing, web-broadcasting, photo and video journalist?
Why are journalists frequently in marathon behind the authorities and reporting what they deem suitable, instead of adopting professionalism and non-biasness?
What are the reasons behind the under and misreporting?
Why do some journalists use their media power to shine or gloom rivals?
How to isolate the useless Media operators, and place the suitable person in the right positions?
Why does governments avail all the state Media apparatus only to the journalist expressing their mainstream lines?
The questionnaire will be sent to targeted stakeholders, and posted in the personal social media and web page related to the principal author and blogs of the participants. Respondent to the questionnaire have had sufficient but limited time to formulate their answers and sent it back. The responses are expected to be satisfactory enough, in particular from those who are active in the Alternative and Activist Media. Alternative and Activist New Media  could be a suitable outlet in protracted crises and conflict affected Sudanese realities.
While the semi-structured interviews will be conducted via skype (teleconference program) with expert journalists in the Diaspora, and if possible to carry it with another journalists in the war-affected areas in case of overcoming the logistical and security constraint.
The wider public in the social media (Personal Facebook and Twitter pages and You-tube of the Author) is expected to react to the questions with likes, shares and comments.
The time will be major constraint to collect many answers and revert backs. However, the will be told stories, returned questionnaires, and conductible interviews will be sufficient to address the themes put on the table for this e-consultation.
One of the shortcoming and limitation of the questionnaire is that it is formulated in English language, which might be difficult for some potential respondents, and if possible it will be translate that in local languages, however, the author does not have very limited time and means to carry that task.
Internet links to the event and author digital posting will be reported in the questionnaire .
Of course the Alternative Media is playing major roles than the conventional Media. Alternative media has proven to challenge existing powers, to represent marginalized groups, and to foster horizontal linkages among communities of interest. Its dimensions in this case we talk of its content, aesthetic, modes of production, modes of distribution, and audience relations has given the reality on the ground unlike what we consume from the mainstream media. The convectional media has been playing to the gallery of its commercial interest or the government manipulation without key interest of championing for the human rights. Communication scholar Robert W. McChesney , inspired in part by the work of Chomsky  and Herman , has linked the failures of the mainstream press primarily to corporate ownership, pro-corporate public policy, and the myth of “professional journalism.” He has published extensively on the failures of the mainstream press, and advocates scholarship in the study of the political economy of the media, the growth of alternative media, and comprehensive media policy reforms.” Alternative media are important because they can reach everybody and can be used by everybody with minimal training, and in certain difficult conditions they can gather and disseminate information that the institutional media cannot or do not want to access.”
Actually, the alternative media has played great and influential role in transforming the society in North Africa and specially in contexts where there are oppressive regimes denying freedom of expression and basic and fundamental rights, access to media and gagging and harassing journalists. In realities such as Sudan, the number of Social Media users was very limited, but it is efficient and effective and used by activists inside and outside the country. Through the Social media and personal websites, the information become available even for users in very remote areas and villages, through the phones connected to satellite internet, digital remote webcams, and the world has become ever connected with that remote areas not like in the past. So any change or notable event become widely disseminated and diffused within no time and transmitted consequently. The current social mobilization, strikes, students uprising and protest, and civil disobedience the Sudanese are using the social Media in growing numbers and that will lead to a benchmark and critical momentum to accomplish an inspired change. But this process is an accumulative process and its impacts will need time and resources.
For instance, in Egypt, Tunis, and other aggressive and oppressive regimes, the youth gained and took advantage of the available social media and achieved and developed great communication capacities and led the wide public through that innovative instruments of the social media, so the social media constituted alternative media counter opposing the regimes mainstream conventional media. Despite of the close surveillance and controls by those authoritarian regimes, some external institutional arrangements assisted those youth and activists and through certain systems of codifications and creation of alternative nicknames and fantasy modalities, they managed to communicate effectively and timely. So, substantially, the alternative media is becoming popular and playing a role of the mainstream conventional areas and continue to do so and that will lead to tangible change in the Sudanese reality.
In Sudan Alternative Mass communication is essentially depending on the financial availability and support and willingness to build the capacities of the needy. For example, there are no means and instruments such as cameras, laboratories, training materials, to prepare capable medial professionals, furthermore, recently the universities have lost their spirit of conducing genuine preparations of their students, and limited the freedom of research and journalistic investigation, and by that the universities become only universities in names without much substances, eluding the students and wasting precious time and resources of the students. In the past the students used to prepare concrete projects and participate in the public awareness and social enlightening, combat the socially destructive habits such as the FGM, conducing scientific and practical tours to the remote areas and even to Europe, but the students are mobilized for ideological and religious governmental interests. Add to that the teachers are increasing leaving the country and migrating to the Arab countries in scandalous human resource grabbing, and those who remain are not sufficiently dedicated and less qualified to carry their mission.
Generally, the Alternative Media be strengthened and supported by:
a. Empowering the community to learn the skill of storytelling to increase the content of the alternative media.
b. Replacing the current libertarian media model with one that operates democratically, rather than for profit
c. Strengthening public service broadcasting
d. Incorporating the use of alternative media into a larger discourse
e. Increasing the role of citizen journalism
f. Turning a passive audience into active participants
g. Using mass media to promote democratic ideals
h. Training and popular education.
i. Training of trainers, in absence of pollicised governments, oppressive security and intelligence apparatus
j. Formation of small clubs and information points with a minimal technical support that with a minimal cost can be sources of knowledge and information.
k. Through direct donations
l. Building websites as platforms for alternative media outlets
m. Facilitate accessibility to the world wide web
n. Upload ready contributions
o. Enhance and encourage data and information collection and correspondence
p. Protect the activist by obscuring the physical locations
q. Diffuse songs, short stories, novels, news, photos
r. Train in the main journalistic capacities such as interviewing capacities, public opinion
collection, news gathering, journalistic investigation
s. Offering jobs in media houses and encourage popular journalism
t. Build capacities in photo and video journalism, Event organisation coverage
u. Research for original and historic cultural master pieces of song, poetry and heritage
v. Provision of useful electronic links
w. Moral support
x. Constructive criticism
y. Organization of workshops and symposium and constitution of panel of experts and
stakeholders to deeply address that challenging and imperative Media domain.
aa. Erect institutions to defend the alternative media and their defenders.
In summary, from the previous brief participatory action research, emerged that the Alternative Media is becoming more popular in protracted crises and conflict-affected territories, such as the current South Sudan. There are plenty and blended strengthening and supporting mechanism, and there are many ways of enhancing it through the International Inter-university cooperation and solidarity, which can play a proactive role in boosting such enabling pathways. As previously the participants in the mentioned paper on the alternative media recommend organization of workshops and symposium and constitution of panel of experts and stakeholders to deeply address that challenging and imperative media domain, still this proposal remain valid and urgent.
With the advancement and improvements in the ICT tools, some states and particularly the Regime in Sudan exploited these major technological and digital advancements in processes of control and monitory of activist and crackdown on the opponents’ media outlets and social media personal pages. The regime has been investing in recruiting operators to discourage, distract and diverge opponents and erected what is called the electronic jihadist, but there is growing popular rejects and isolation of those operators nicknamed the “Electronic Hens”. Actually the alternative media stakeholders should think strategies to intervene electronically and remotely when the Regime blocks or slowdown the Internet connection. It is true that the improvements in the ICT has capacitated the Regime to control and monitor and the opponents to the regime sometime confiscating their tools, instruments, computers and obscuring some websites and practicing sophisticated censorship, however, also the advancement in the ITC has provided platforms to the counterpart to inflict victories over the regime and the regimes recent public discourse has provided evidence that the regime is fearing the alternative media too much and gathering resources to crackdown on it. The regime is working for the collapse of mainstream media of their opponents and by reducing its profitability through the augmentation of the production costs and post-production-confiscations and knowing that will result in greatly reduced budgets for news gathering and dumbing down across the sector, this is further worsened by the cost and complexity of trying to operate in places like the Sudan, which is considered by the Regime as their sole and exclusive territory.
Though the wide spread social media are covering wide spectrum of the Sudanese population, but still it is not covering a critical mass or reaching a benchmark to overweight the prevailing one. It has limited temporal and spatial coverage and the people are suffering limitation of resources and time-constraints to follow all what occurs in the social media. If we consider the Facebook, it has the limit of 5000 co-users or friends, but that might have the accumulative effect and impact considerable number of community members, especially when the messages or posts are shared in groups and groups of groups. Still the twitter is more effective and efficient in reaching wider number, but it has its limit in the telegraphic length of the message limiting it to 140 characters, we have also the Instagram and the YouTube Channels but that are not massively used. To increase the coverage, the alternative media should move better and up-scape and out-scale its reach. Media in the IDP and refugees camps is important and the experience of Nuba report, Aien and filmmakers are useful experiences and need to be taken as good practices, among others, which are capable in generating public opinion. Now the alternative media can restore to the live broadcasting and pre-registered voice or video messages, and that might be effective and efficient tool for mass communication through the alternative media outlets. The Sudanese social alternative media should pass from the individualism, regionalism, localism, social classes and other forms or socio-economic and geographic aggregations to the collectivism to reflect major representation and deliberative voices.
All in all, also Sudan is gradually embarking the post-factual digital economy and media with the new forms of social media replacing considered journalism, and the Sudanese Alternative media will progress and gain momentum even after the tyrannical regime change. Let us hope and work together so that the alternative media play its complementary or substitutive role in yielding the inspired comprehensive change, through genuine solidarity and for inclusive prosperity.
Department of Agro-food, Environmental and Animal Sciences (D4A), University of Udine, Italy,Personal e-mail: [email protected]