Thursday, June 02, 2005

Mahjoub Salih Awarded Golden Pen

The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) has awarded its annual press freedom prize, the Golden Pen of Freedom, to Mahjoub Mohamed Salih, the editor of Sudan's oldest independent newspaper, Al-Ayam (reported here and here). "In a country with one of the most restrictive media environments in Africa, Mr. Salih is a pioneer and a hero for the independent press," said WAN board members. Ibrahim Nawar concurs (pdf). "Mahjoub Saleh is by far the real hero of the Sudanese free and independent media. He has always enjoyed the respect and the admiration of his fellow journalists in Sudan, in the Arab world and internationally. Mahjoub Saleh’s lifetime achievements qualify him for a remarkable place in the history of the Arab media. Arab Press Freedom Watch (APFW) and I are proud of the work of Mr Saleh and of the international recognition awarded to him."

Salih used his acceptance speech to stress that a free press is vital to the promotion of peace, justice and democratic government.

You may be aware that Sudan has recently signed a peace accord that brought to an end Africa’s longest civil war that over two decades claimed over two million lives and displaced four million people. We are at the moment negotiating yet another peace agreement, which will hopefully end the tragic armed conflict in the Darfur of Western Sudan. In addition to that we have embarked on a constitutional democratic transformation process. Both local and international media should feel proud of this achievement. Had it not been for its concerted effort to uncover and publicise the facts of this tragic conflict peace could not have been achieved. Resistant and courageous efforts of journalists all over the world exposed and publicised the atrocities of the war and mobilized world public opinion to press for peace.

This underlines the importance of independent and committed journalism. I cannot help feeling that had the press been free in exposing these atrocities from the beginning of the conflict, peace would have been achieved years back and a lot of tragic miseries could have been avoided. But unfortunately this had not been possible then, because of repressive laws that imposed a curtain of silence which prevented truthful reporting and kept the world ignorant of event until sustained and courageous professional efforts pierced that curtain and exposed the tragedy.

Salih was asked whether he thought the existence of free media in Sudan could have influenced events in Darfur.

I definitely think so. The proof is simple: all the present attention Darfur is receiving, is due to media coverage of the tragic situation there. Had Sudanese media been allowed to focus on Darfur when the crisis was just starting, a lot of misery could have been avoided and the conflict resolved before it became such a complex catastrophe. Al Ayam started focusing on Darfur two years back but we were stopped, punished and eventually closed down. A complete news black out set in. This allowed the conflict to rage unabatedly.

posted by Fido the Yak at 9:28 PM.


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