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Online Journalism Is Redefining the Media Industry In Sudan

What’s leading to the change?

Sudanese citizen journalism is an extremely significant example of an alternative media dimension created by new technology, ending a traditional monopoly. It marks the transition from one era to another. In the wake of the country’s recent media and journalism shuffles, some questions are looming large.

Media reporting in Sudan is a complicated business, fraught with risks for mainstream and alternative media. There are many sensitive issues that frequently do not receive adequate coverage. This has been the case since the country’s independence in 1953. Although there are numerous legislative measures in place, Sudan has a culture of self-censorship that makes legal repression redundant.

According to Herbert (2001), the importance of culture in determining the nature of a national press or media cannot be underestimated. Furthermore, the ownership of the Sudanese media narrows certain possibilities in the name of security.

In Herbert’s view, all the major newspapers or broadcasting stations are either owned by one of the ruling coalition parties or by financial interests closely associated with the government in one way or another. Editorial decisions are, inevitably, politically influenced, and politics cannot be easily separated from the media.

However, though everything changed at the outset of the digital era, Sudan’s legacy of modernising itself into an information-rich knowledge economy come into play.

The dichotomy of citizen journalism

Emerging communication technologies significantly transformed the terrain of information creation and distribution (Shirky, 2008), straining and, at times, supplanting journalism’s traditional mission of informing the public (Tumber, 2001). Mainstream news companies, which no longer have exclusive access to information and a distribution advantage, are experimenting with new technologies in an effort to revitalize journalism and meet contemporary requirements (Zamith, 2008).

The development of interactive technologies has facilitated the incorporation of user-generated information into news context in novel ways. Such media have been met with a great deal of skepticism (Hermida & Thurman, 2007, Tumber, 2001). Concerns are warranted regarding the tone, veracity, and partisanship of much of the political information supplied by developing sites.

It cannot be denied that the digital age has led to many changes in the traditional media system. According to Waldman (2005), the internet has allowed potentially anyone to become an amateur or citizen reporter, who can publish articles to the entire world. Given such sweeping changes, would-be media soothsayers predicted that ‘the future will involve thou­sands of exper­i­ments and brave new ways of doing jour­nal­ism, far from the one-size-fits-all era that is now drawing to a close (Lasica, 2010)’.

Since its inception, many confusing, often overlapping and sometimes conflicting terms, have been linked with citizen journalism, in attempt to establish terminology. Some terms used to describe this concept appears self-reflective such as personal publishing, self-publishing, do-it-yourself (DIY) journalism, participatory journalism/publishing, deliberative journalism, alternative media/publishing, collaborative publishing, open publishing, and community publishing (Nguyen 2006, p.2).

Making do with the term citizen journalism, let us note a prominent definition. In their comprehensive work on how the audiences are shaping the future of news and information, Shayne Bowman and Chris Willis (2003) define the concept of citizen journalism as “the act of a citizen, or group of citizens, playing an active role in the process of collecting, reporting, analysing and disseminating news and information.” The intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires (Bowman & Willis 2003, p.3).

Whatever it may be called – the new face of journalism has put the power in the hands of the people. How it further shapes the future of Sudan, however, remains to be seen.

Ahmed Malik is Senior Account Manager at Cicero & Bernay Communication Consultancy, an independent PR agency headquartered in Dubai offering new-age public relations consultancy to the UAE and across the MENA region. | www.cbpr.me