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Home > Publications > Quill > What we do can change a country


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Monday, March 3, 2008
What we do can change a country

Bruce C. Swaffield

I often wonder if we as journalists are doing enough to inform people about the devastation, destruction and disaster in Sudan.

Our responsibility is not merely to report on alleged atrocities in Darfur, but also to tell about the sincere and heartfelt concerns shared by people in our own communities across the country. How do our readers and viewers feel, for example, about this situation? Are they concerned? If so, what are they doing to make a difference?

In June 2004, I wrote an article for another publication about the grave situation in Sudan. Estimates at the time indicated that roughly 30,000 people had died since the crisis began in February 2003. As of December, the U.S. government said the total had escalated to between 200,000 and 400,000.

Very little has been done in four years. People still are dying at an alarming rate, whether by starvation or by assassination. If anything, the conditions have become worse.

But it’s the unknown facts that are the real tragedy. No one truly knows how many have died, how many have been displaced and how many are without food or water. We don’t even know how many of the 400 million who supposedly live in Sudan are suffering at this very moment. According to the United Nations, more than 2 million people have already been forced to flee their homes and seek refuge in make-shift desert camps.

The BBC reports that the ongoing civil war is “one of the worst nightmares in recent history.” It is nearly impossible for anyone, particularly journalists and mission workers, to get in and out of the region safely.

Even so, not enough is being done to tell this catastrophic story. Over and over again, the media need to remind the world that hundreds are suffering every minute, especially children, and they cannot wait for peace treaties to take effect or for warring factions to resolve their differences.

Part I of our Code of Ethics states that journalists should “tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.” In addition, we are to “give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.” The sooner we begin to reflect and reveal the horrors of this situation, in whatever ways we can, the quicker the world will demand change and peace.

We have an obligation to seek out stories that deal directly with the incidents in Sudan. We can report what certain humanitarian groups in our area are doing to help. Maybe local efforts are being made to send food, water, clothing or medicine. Perhaps there is a small, grassroots campaign to persuade government leaders as well as the United Nations to bring an end to the genocide.

There may be those in our own city who know someone living in Sudan or the neighboring countries: the Central African Republic, the Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya and Uganda. We can describe the agony they feel as they hear about the acts of violence being committed.

Because we are journalists and human beings, we are bound ethically and morally to do all we can to report what is occurring at home and overseas. The main question for us is not asking how far we will go to report or “make” the news. Rather, the real issue lies in how we define news. It seems to me that the news must always inform as well as enlighten; society must learn what is going on, as well as the implications.

The public deserves to know the facts and effects of this situation. In essence, we are their eyes and ears. By choosing journalism as our profession, we have made a commitment to tell them the truth.

In the case of Sudan, uncovering the details will not be easy. It will require time, energy and even sacrifice. But in the end, the struggle will be worth the effort.

Back in 2006, Rep. Tom Allen, D-Maine, said that, “Despite the increase in world attention toward Sudan in the past months, the genocide in Darfur has continued without any serious attempt by the Sudanese government to do what governments primarily exist to do: protect their citizens.” There has been much talk since that time, but very little action.

We as reporters and writers can bring about a change, as small as it might be, if we are willing to search for the real stories that allow the world see this nightmare for what it is: a terrible human tragedy. The proof of what the media can do is in the past; had certain journalists chosen to overlook or turn away from tough stories, the public may have never known the truth. Watergate is a monumental example of the power of journalism at its best.

Time and time again, throughout history, we have seen journalists succeed where governments have failed, when NGOs were ineffective and while private efforts fell short. The stories we report today will make people everywhere realize what needs to be done tomorrow. For the millions of people held hostage in Sudan, the media may be their only real help and hope for the future.

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