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Peter Mackler Award Winner Faisal Salih: \”There is always a window for reporting.\”

October 25, 2013
From L-R: Catherine Antoine, Faisal Salih, Mrs. Salih, Delphine Halgand

In a ceremony at National Press Club in Washington DC, Thursday, Sudan’s persecuted newspaper editor and media trainer, Faisal Mohamed Salih, became the fifth recipient of the Peter Mackler Award for Courageous and Ethical Journalism. The keynote speaker at the event was Ambassador Princeton N. Lyman, former US special envoy to Sudan.

At the event Salih, who has been repeatedly harassed and briefly jailed by the regime of President Omar al-Bashir spoke of the challenges facing journalists in Sudan including pre-publication censorship. Salih said he considered the award an honour not only to him but also to other Sudanese journalists persecuted by the Khartoum regime.
In his keynote address Lyman said, “Sudan needs now as much or more than ever, the means for a free and full national dialogue about its future. And that requires a free and active media.”
He went on to say, “The press is not only a medium of debate but can also channel the views of academia, civil society and various actors into the public square. This debate may well be raucous. But better it be raucous in the press than in armed clashes…

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“[The press] can be a model of transformational governance that leads to true freedom and democracy. This is what people like Faisal, and so many of his colleagues strive for, take risks for, and what they deeply believe is possible. They are the allies of change, and of stability, of freedom and justice. If only those who fear those outcomes will stand aside and allow them to do their work, Sudan can succeed. There is no better alternative.”
Lauren Mackler introduced the Peter Mackler Award and Delphine Halgand, director of Reporters without Borders (RSF) in Washington DC, spoke of RSF’s work in Sudan and countries where freedom of expression is under attack. 
On Wednesday, speaking at the School of Journalism, Columbia University in New York, Salih outlined the pressure under which journalists operated in Sudan. Although the government did not own any newspapers, he said, it was successful in coercing the media to toe the line because of weak media laws and its control of advertising.
Salih also spoke of direct censorship where the ‘agents’ of the government would be present in the newspaper office to monitor their content. If there was material the government considered inimical, the entire edition would be confiscated. “So in the end, we prefer pre-printing censorship because if a decision to censor is taken ahead of time, it is cheaper for the paper,” he said.
On the September riots in Sudan following price increases of petroleum products he said that the government had insisted the media publish only the official version. Although the social media was used to disseminate what could not be written in newspapers, there was not much impact because of low rates of internet penetration in the country.
Answering a question as to what outside help would work in Sudan, Salih said the regime liked to present itself as respecting human rights; hence pressure on rights violations by the international community was helpful.
Asked how journalists worked in these conditions, Salih replied, “There is always a window for reporting.” For instance, if there was a ban on reporting hard news, journalists would write a column; or they would comment on a report by the international media.
Speaking of how the regime punished independent journalists he said that due to international pressure, journalists were not incarcerated. But they were ordered to report to the security office and had to sometimes sit for 13 hours in a chair, alone in the room.
“I am serving my people, my country; I am serving things I believe in. Doing something I love. By doing journalism, I am campaigning for social justice, for human rights, for freedom,” Salih said.
[Please see these links for this blog’s coverage of Sudan and Salih: one, two, three, four]
Dispatches from AFP concerning freedom of information, censorship and news coverage in regions where independent media is under threat.