12174, IRRESPONSIBLE JOURNALISM !!!.............................|
Posted by abduhu, Thu Jul-26-01 06:50 AM
THE BBC, SUDAN AND BARONESS COX:
Date of Publication: April 2001
The European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council
1 Northumberland Avenue
Tel: 020 7872 5434
Fax: 020 7753 2848
On 29 January 2001, the British Broadcasting Corporation Television screened Everyman: The Dangerous Adventures of Baroness Cox. This programme followed Baroness Cox, President of Christian Solidarity Worldwide (formerly Christian Solidarity International or CSI), on one of her controversial visits to southern Sudan. She was filmed there claiming to have "redeemed" several hundred Sudanese "slaves". In dealing with what is a very controversial issue, the BBC chose to give those questioning the claims made by Baroness Cox 60 seconds in a
programme that was one hour in length. In so doing, the BBC
demonstrated not just poor journalism, but also in effect allowed the unchallenged articulation of deeply questionable claims. The BBC is also in danger of having fuelled undeserved prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. The programme clearly ignored the BBC's own guidelines with regard to impartiality, accuracy and its handling of people and cultures.
Civil war has raged in Sudan off and on since 1955 between the Sudanese government and rebels in southern Sudan. Since 1983 the war in the south has been fought by the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA). (1) The essence of the claims made by Baroness Cox is that as a consequence of this war there is a flourishing "slave trade" in Sudan. She claims that Sudanese government and its northern forces raid southern villages and
"enslave" Dinka tribesmen, women and children and that the people
involved in the "slave trade" are northern Arab "slave traders" and "militiamen". Baroness Cox further claims that on visits to parts of southern Sudan she has bought back or "redeemed" thousands of slaves, often several hundred at a time. Leaving aside the issue of whether she is actually buying "slaves" or people kidnapped for ransom, what Baroness Cox claims to be doing has been heavily criticised by groups such as UNICEF, whose executive director has stated that "the practice has encouraged more trafficking and criminality " (2), Anti-Slavery
International and the Save the Children fund.
"Slavery" and "Slave Redemption" versus Kidnapping, Abduction or Fraud?
The unchallenged claims of large scale "slave redemption" made by Baroness Cox in the course the BBC programme can be clearly assessed against more objective sources. One of these is the report by the Canadian government's special envoy to Sudan, John Harker, into human rights abuses in Sudan, a report commissioned by the Canadian government. The Harker report, Human Security in Sudan: The Report of a Canadian Assessment Mission, was published in February 2000. One of the two missions with which John Harker was tasked was to:
"independently investigate human rights violations, specifically in reference to allegations of slavery and slavery-like practices in Sudan." (3)
While Harker was critical of many human rights abuses in Sudan, he clearly questioned claims of large scale "slave redemption". He specifically touched on the credibility of such claims:
"eports, especially from CSI, about very large numbers were
questioned, and frankly not accepted. Mention was also made to us of evidence that the SPLA were involved in "recycling" abductees...
Serious anti-abduction activists...cannot relate the claimed redemptions to what they know of the reality. For example we were told that it would be hard not to notice how passive these "slave" children are when they are liberated or to realize how implausible it is to gather together so many people from so many locations so quickly - and there were always just the right number to match redemption funds available!"
The Harker Report also detailed how fraudulent "slave redemptions" were being used to raise money for the SPLA, money which he stated is used to purchase arms and ammunition:
"Several informants reported various scenarios involving staged
redemptions. In some cases, SPLM officials are allegedly involved in arranging these exchanges, dressing up as Arab slave traders, with profits being used to support the SPLM/A, buy weapons and ammunition..."
The Harker Report documented the deliberately fraudulent nature of many "slave redemptions":
"Sometimes a "redeeming group" may be innocently misled, but other groups may be actively committed to fundraising for the SPLM/A & deliberately use "slave redemption" as a successful tactic for attracting Western donors.
We did speak with an eyewitness who can confirm observing a staged redemption and this testimony conformed with other reports we had from a variety of credible sources. The "redeeming group" knew they were buying back children who had not been abducted or enslaved. The exchange was conducted in the presence of armed SPLA guards. The "Arab" middle man/trader delivering the children for "redemption" was recognized as a
member of the local community even though he was dressed up in
traditional Arab costume for the event." (4)
It is not just the Canadian government that has questioned the sort of process to which Baroness Cox was an all too willing party, and which was so unquestioningly recorded by the BBC. The respected human rights expert, and Sudan specialist, Alex de Waal, while co-director of the human rights group African Rights, has stated with regard to claims made by Baroness Cox that:
"(O)vereager or misinformed human rights advocates in Europe and the US have played upon lazy assumptions to raise public outrage. Christian Solidarity International, for instance, claims that "Government troops and Government-backed Arab militias regularly raid black African communities for slaves and other forms of booty". The organization repeatedly uses the term "slave raids", implying that taking captives is the aim of government policy. This despite the fact that there is no evidence for centrally-organized, government-directed slave raiding or slave trade." (5)
In a July 1999 article entitled 'The False Promise of Slave Redemption', published by The Atlantic Monthly, American journalist Richard Miniter provided unambiguous first hand evidence that there was fraud and corruption in the process of "slave redemption" in Sudan, whereby southern Sudanese tribesmen, women and children were supposedly "bought back" from northern Sudanese tribesmen said to have abducted them during
raids on southern villages. (6)
Miniter documented that SPLA officials are involved in fraud with regard to "slave redemption":
" set themselves up as bankers and insist that redeemers exchange their dollars for Sudanese pounds, a nearly worthless currency...The officials arrange by radio to have some villages play slaves and some play slave-sellers, and when the redeemers arrive, the Sudanese pounds are used to free the slaves. When the redeemers are gone, the pounds are turned back over to the corrupt officials, who hand out a few dollars in return. Most of the dollars stay with the officials, who now also have the Sudanese pounds with which to play banker again."
This was not the first time that an American journalist has questioned rebel involvement in the whole issue of "slavery" and "slavery redemption". William Finnegan, in his article 'The Invisible War', which appeared in The New Yorker in January 1999, tells of having himself come across a "slave trader" at Nyamlell similar to the one spoken of by Miniter:
"To me, perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the mystery surrounding Nyamlell's slaver rescuer was his relationship with the S.P.L.A. If he was in fact a double-dealer, running a nefarious business, could the local rebels be in league with his operation? They certainly seemed to endorse his work." (7)
Miniter was accompanied during a visit to southern Sudan by James
Jacobson, the president of Christian Freedom International. Jacobson, a former Reagan Administration official, had previously served as Christian Solidarity International's Washington representative. In 1998, the American branch of Christian Solidarity International USA went its own way as Christian Freedom International, with Jacobson at its head.
He was an enthusiastic supporter of "slave redemption" until he actually visited southern Sudan to see the "slave redemption" situation for himself. Jacobson subsequently publicly disowned "slave redemption" because the financial incentives involved encouraged both the taking of captives as well as fraud and corruption.
Interviewed after his visit to Nyamlell, James Jacobson told the Denver Post of his clear reservations about "redemption": "I just felt everything was not as it appeared to be. You don't know if after several days these groups of people get reabducted." The Denver Post reported that the leaders of major human-rights organizations were stating that abductions are "not only...increasing but that the increases almost certainly are related to the sudden availability of Western money for buybacks":
"It's like paying hostage takers ransom, they say, arguing that any payment lends credibility to the notion of buying and selling human beings. They say the money encourages scams..." (8)
A Reuters report in July 1999 confirmed the "massive corruption"
reported by Jacobson:
"Local aid workers...say that they have seen children who they have known for months passed off as slaves...And Reuters interviewed one boy in Yargot who told a completely implausible story of life in the north, a story which he changed in every respect when translators were swapped." (9)
In May 1999, the Christian Science Monitor also clearly stated:
"There are increasingly numerous reports that significant numbers of those 'redeemed' were never slaves in the first place. Rather, they were simply elements of the local populations, often children, available to be herded together when cash-bearing redeemers appeared." (10)
Perhaps the final word on the "redemption" of abductees should be given to those closest to the issue. Anti-Slavery International cited a source close to the Dinka retrieval committee, the Dinka community's own grouping which exists in the affected areas to secure the return of abductees, as saying that they were concerned that: "Such outside intervention with big sums of money may make matters worse and can encourage others to capture and "facilitate" the retrieval of more children for economic motives." (11)
The BBC programme did not deal with the issue of whether the people said to have been "slaves" were "slaves" or rather people kidnapped or abducted for ransoming to Westerners with large amounts of cash. The programme also did not deal with the issue of whether or not "slave redemption" actually encouraged further kidnapping and abduction specifically for that market. Nor did the programme even touch upon let alone discuss the well-documented issue of simple misrepresentation or fraud within the "slave redemption" issue. The BBC's inability to adequately present the issues they claimed to document in this program
is clear. It is clear that "overeager and misinformed" also applies to BBC personnel and their unquestioning acceptance of terms such as "slavery" and "slave redemption" in the Sudan. This is all the more surprising given that the programme makers were provided on request by the European-Sudanese Public Affairs Council with a wealth of materials detailing public concerns about this very issues.
Has the BBC Encouraged Racial Prejudice?
What is perhaps equally disturbing about this BBC programme is that it may have encouraged prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. The sort of claims given free rein in the BBC programme have disturbed groups such as Anti-Slavery International, the world's oldest human rights organisation. In a submission to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights in Geneva, Anti-Slavery International stated:
"There is a danger that wrangling over slavery can distract us from abuses which are actually part of government policy - which we do not believe slavery to be. Unless accurately reported, the issue can become a tool for indiscriminate and wholly undeserved prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. are worried that some media reports of "slave markets", stocked by Arab slave traders - which consider distort reality - fuel such prejudice." (12) (emphasis added)
Anti-Slavery International would seem to believe that talk of "Arab slave traders", as unreservedly echoed by the BBC, distort reality and fuel prejudice against Arabs and Muslims. In Everyman: The Dangerous Adventures of Baroness Cox, there are fifteen specific references to Arabs. These appear in statements such as "Arab slave traders", "Arab raiders", "Arab traders", "Arab militia" and "Arab militiamen".
The BBC, Baroness Cox and Credibility
The BBC programme makers showed an amazingly lackadaisical approach to Baroness Cox's credibility regarding Sudanese affairs. On issue after issue her accuracy has previously been found to be wanting, and her claims are or have been contradicted by the British and American governments, UNSCOM and human rights groups such as African Rights and Anti-Slavery International. Even more caution should have been exercised
given the fact that, as the program itself states, she was "going off to help the rebels" and that she herself admits that there is "a one- sidedness" in her work. Even The Times newspaper review of the programme described her as looking "ever so slightly unhinged". (13)
It is not just Baroness Cox's judgement that has been called into
question. The veteran southern Sudanese politician Bona Malwal directly challenged claims made by Baroness Cox to have "redeemed slaves". In a letter to her Malwal stated that:
"On at least three different occasions, you have come into Twic County without the permission of the local leadership, using Messrs Stephen Wondu and Martin Okeruk as your license to do so. You then say each time that your mission was to redeem slaves and that indeed you have done so, when in each instance this had not been the case. The latest episode was in October when you landed at Mayen Abun without even the courtesy of informing the local area representative....
I know that you have put out for propaganda, and maybe for fundraising purposes as well, that you redeemed slaves at Mayen Abun in October when nothing of the sort happened. I sincerely hope that this type of game stops...I sincerely hope that you do see the harm that could be caused and that you will refrain from this activity in the future." (14)
Malwal's standing within the southern Sudanese community is
unassailable. Malwal is the publisher of the Sudan Democratic Gazette. He is a former Minister of Information and Culture and was the editor of the Sudan Times, the largest English-language newspaper in Sudan before 1989. He went into exile when the present government in Sudan came to power a decade ago, and teaches international affairs at Oxford University. Baroness Cox has herself previously described him as "one of the well-respected elders of the Dinka tribe". (15) The implications of
Bona Malwal's letter to Baroness Cox are clear and it is for the reader to draw his or her own conclusions.
Why then did the BBC allow Baroness Cox what was to all intents and purposes an unchallenged opportunity to make controversial and deeply questionable claims? Was the BBC not aware of Bona Malwal's challenging of Cox's claims? Surely the BBC had a professional duty to be even more careful in dealing with such very delicate and controversial issues. No such caution or professionalism was evident.
Leaving aside the clear criticisms of Baroness Cox with regard to her claims about "slavery" in Sudan, her track record of making other unreliable claims concerning Sudan is a clear one. On 17 February 1998, in the British Parliament, for example, Baroness Cox claimed that four hundred Scud missiles (including support vehicles well over one thousand vehicles) had been secretly transferred to Sudan from Iraq since the Gulf War in the face of unprecedented satellite, electronic and physical
surveillance of that country by the United States, the United Nations and other concerned members of the international community. It is a matter of record that Reuters reported that on the same day that Baroness Cox made this claim, the White House clearly stated: "We have no credible evidence that Iraq has exported weapons of mass destruction technology to other countries since the (1991) Gulf War." The British government stated in relation to these claims that: "We are monitoring
the evidence closely, but to date we have no evidence to substantiate these claims.... Moreover, we know that some of the claims are untrue...". (16) The British Government Minister also cited UNSCOM, stating that: "Nor has the United Nations Special Commission reported any evidence of such transfers since the Gulf War conflict and the imposition of sanctions in 1991." (17)
In May 1998 Baroness Cox claimed that genocide was taking place in the Bahr al-Ghazal region of southern Sudan. She was commenting on inter- tribal fighting. (18) When the British government was asked in Parliament if they had any evidence to verify Baroness Cox's claims of genocide in Bahr al-Ghazal the government replied: "The situation was very complicated and the picture unclear, making it difficult to verify facts...these killings should be seen in the context of a long history of tribal conflicts. It would appear from the information available to us that no one side was entirely to blame." (19)
The Glorious Qur'an - Surah 6, Al-An'am:
75. So also did We show Abraham the power and the laws of the heavens and the earth, that he might (with understanding) have certitude.
76. When the night covered him over, He saw a star: He said: "This is my Lord." But when it set, He said: "I love not those that set."
77. When he saw the moon rising in splendour, he said: "This is my Lord." But when the moon set, He said: "unless my Lord guide me, I shall surely be among those who go astray."
78. When he saw the sun rising in splendour, he said: "This is my Lord; this is the greatest (of all)." But when the sun set, he said: "O my people! I am indeed free from your (guilt) of giving partners to Allah.
79. "For me, I have set my face, firmly and truly, towards Him Who created the heavens and the earth, and never shall I give partners to Allah."
the biography of Prophet Muhammad (saws):
subhaanakallahumma (Glory be to you, Oh Allah), wabihamdika (and I praise You). ashhadu anla ilaha illa anta (I bear witness that none has the right to be worshipped except You). astaghfiruka (I seek Your forgiveness), wa attuubu ilaika (and I turn to You in Repentance).