A military coup d’état on October 25, 2021 signaled a return to information control and censorship. Journalists are working in a worsening climate of violence.
Broadcast media, largely dominated by the government, are the major information source for Sudan’s people. State-owned media, Sudan National Radio Corporation and Sudan National Broadcasting Corporation, operate as voices of the regime. Since the coup, conditions for media and journalists have worsened. The sector is deeply polarised. Journalistic critics have been arrested, and the internet is regularly shut down in order to block the flow of information. Propaganda messages are disseminated in state-owned media, which operate under military control, recalling methods employed under the Omar al-Bashir regime, which ruled in 1989-2019.
After 20 years of military dictatorship under al-Bashir, he was toppled by the army in 2019, when the country attempted a democratic transition. But in October 2021, the military and General Abdel Fattah al-Burhan took power in a new coup. Upon seizing control, they declared a state of emergency and dissolved the transition government. The putsch endangered recent and tentative progress on press freedom. The Sudanese media regulatory agency, the National Council for Press and Publication, is authorised to shut down critical publications without judicial orders. The Ministry of Information manages broadcast licenses in highly politicised fashion.
Freedom of the press and information access are guaranteed by a provisional Constitution adopted in 2019. However, some laws used under the old regime remain in force and muzzle critical media. A 2020 cyber-crime law limits journalists’ freedom, and a 2009 law on the press and publications allowed strengthened control over publishing by the National Council of the Press and Publication. Finally, a 2010 national security law criminalises publication of lies and “false information” and any content that “threatens public peace” or “weakens state prestige.”
Allocation of official advertising to the media is based on cronyism and closeness to the government. Institutions that do not support government positions do not get advertising. Many journalists, trying to improve their material and social conditions, see themselves obliged to work with the military and armed movements. The pandemic has deeply affected the media industry, especially women journalists, many of whom have been laid off or forced to take leave. Those who try to stay on the job receive no more than half their salaries.
Sudan is a multicultural, multiethnic society where tolerance and coexistence are in jeopardy. Ethnic groups’ sensitivities are heightened. Accusations over perceived insults are increasing, with the media frequently a target. Interference by religious groups, which use their networks to defend their interests, are contributing to worsening conditions for journalists. The revolution has come to represent greater outspokenness on social networks, but in uncontrolled form, it feeds racism and misogyny and targets women and ethnic and sexual minorities.
Threats that journalists face have intensified in recent years with the emergence of new militias and armed movements. Reporters are systematically attacked and insulted in demonstrations, by both the army and rapid-response forces. Journalists who criticise the authorities or have published compromising documents involving the government are under constant surveillance and electronic monitoring. Correspondents can only work under a special media pass issued by the government. A permit must be granted for most regions each time a reporter travels there. The government exploits the private lives of women journalists to intimidate them. Their chats on social networks are under constant monitoring, which leads to threats and, at times, reprisals. Anti-journalist predators enjoy total impunity and are protected by the authorities. No law protects journalists, although some civil institutions, such as the Sudanese Journalists Network, the Sudanese Media Network, and Journalists for Human Rights, have established mechanisms for following up and documenting violations of reporters’ rights.