Radio Afia, a half-hour radio show broadcast three times daily in Darfur, Sudan, and eastern Chad, started with a noble mission: To provide Darfuri citizens mired in war or displaced by violence with objective news and information about the crisis–the kind they weren’t getting from the Sudanese government. But poor execution has left the promise of that mission unfulfilled, according to a report by Sheri Fink for ProPublica.
Started with funding from the U.S. State Department, Radio Afia’s critics blame its failings on cultural ignorance and a soft approach to coverage of the Sudanese government. The program is broadcast in standard Arabic, which critics say most of the intended audience not only can’t understand, but find “offensive because it [is] associated with the people who were killing them,” according to Fink. Radio Afia has also come under scrutiny for the firing of one of its outspoken newscasters, who reportedly battled with his bosses over what he saw as their lax coverage of the government.
If true, the shortcomings of Radio Afia identified by its critics are disappointing considering the continued scarcity of free information in Sudan, which the project was intended to combat. According to a recent report by Human Rights Watch, government censorship of media and tight control of free speech is escalating. “Free and fair elections require a free and open media,” said Georgette Gagnon of Human Rights Watch in a press release about the report. “Khartoum’s repressive practices and abuse of those who criticize it put such elections at great risk.” And as violence in Darfur intensifies, writes Fink, “[g]etting news to Darfuri civilians is more important than ever.”