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Media attention and Sudan

IRIN, an amazing UN project designed to provide information from conflict areas, has a brilliant set of quotes on media attention in a story today on the refugee crisis on the Sudan/Chad border.

For those of you not keeping up with the Sudan, the front of the almost-over 20+ year civil war in Sudan has recently shifted to the southwest of the country. (The conflict in a nutshell – “Arab”, Muslim north versus “African”, Christian and Animist south. Much more sophisticated analysis on BBC, in a country profile and timeline.) Amnesty International reports that the Khartoum government is supporting a camel and horse-mounted militia called the Janjaweed, which is brutally crushing rebellion in the region around Darfur. Independent journalists on the Chadian border, recently crossed by over 100,000 refugees, report that the Janjaweed is being supported by military airstrikes, described by Amnesty as “indiscriminate”.

(Not up on the current Sudan situation? S’okay – neither is President Bush. In yesterday’s meeting with Kofi Annan, the leaders congratulated each other on “the progress toward a comprehensive peace in the Sudan.”)

IRIN turns the spotlight on media attention and its role in the crisis on the border.

“We in the Red Cross, up to now we’ve found it very difficult to fund-raise for Chad,” said Robbie Tomson. “It’s not headline news. Who in Europe or the US knows about this war?” he asked.

This difficulty in raising funds hasn’t just plagued the Red Cross. UNHCR requested $10.3 million in funding to alleviate the refugee situation. It’s recieved no commitments of funds so far.

Compounding this “indifference” has been the lack of media coverage. “People are dying every day, but nobody is diffusing the information because there are no journalists here,” said Sudanese chief, Abbakar Anaw. “Peace Can only come back if the UN puts pressure on the government”, he added.

The indifference of both the international community and the Sudanese government was pushing them to take up arms, added one of the victims. “What the government is doing is encouraging people to fight back,” he said.

A week or so ago, I was on a panel at Davos with the news director of a major global cable news network. He spoke, with some pride, of his network’s role in bringing attention, military intervention and international aid into Somalia. An open question to him, and his bretheren at similar networks: Where the heck are you guys? What has to happen to get you guys interested?