Khalid Al Mubarak
Dr. Ahmed Bilal who took over as Minister of Culture and Information three months ago continued his efforts to modernise the field of communications and media by two significant overseas visits, to Beijing and London. The choice of the two venues is significant, indicating both the desire to explore new, promising cooperation while consolidating old BBC links.
The China visit (8-11 October 2012) was sponsored by the “Star Times” company which has already spearheaded the transformation from analogue to digital in fifteen African countries.
Dr. A. Bilal and the accompanying delegation were briefed about a most generous offer: A preferential loan, extending to 30 years, would include the construction of a “Media City”, ten free channels (40 by subscription) as well as training opportunities for Sudanese technicians. The deal would enable the Sudanese Ministry to cover all the Sudan with transmission and will offer good value for money for viewers using set-top boxes.
The Cooperation Protocol between the Sudan and China has expired last March but the equally urgent and relevant task is signing an agreement with “Star Times” within a month in order to avoid being left out of the “digital revolution” which (according to the International Telecommunication Union’s Geneva Conference of 2006) should be completed by 2015.
It is worth mentioning that the Sudan was a pioneer in television, second only to Egypt when, with German help, it began Television transmission in 1964 and again second only to Egypt in introducing colour Television in Africa.
In London, Dr. A. Bilal held a meeting (16 October) with senior Arabic Service staff at the new BBC, Egdon Buildings – Portland Place.
He emphasized that the Sudan appreciated the fact that its broadcasting system was a “BBC extension” in 1940 and that relations were consolidated to include training and employment of Sudanese staff. He went on to explain new arrangements in place to answer a complaint of foreign correspondents (including BBC ones) that they do not have easy and quick access to top Sudanese officials. A group has now been set up with direct links to all correspondents who register with the relevant External Information Desk.
He listened to a case of a correspondent who visited Khartoum for ten days from Washington DC and had to leave empty-handed after the BBC suffered financial expenses for his team.
The BBC now has got a new correspondent.
Dr. A. Bilal told the staff that he knew about the BBC’s status and charter and that it was not a direct official mouthpiece of the government because it sometimes criticizes the UK government or broadcasts items not agreeable to the ministries. He also said that criticism of the BBC in the Sudan centred on its seeming obsession with repeated comments whenever the name of President Bashir came up – linking him with ICC allegations.
He told them that he didn’t belong to President Bashir’s party; but to the broad-based coalition and that President Bashir was a democratically elected president who is very popular among his people. The ICC and its allegations are not foolproof and to continue to repeat them ad-infinitum is insensitive, especially through a Sudan-based FM system. Sudanese media deal with a great deal of sensitivity in matters relating to the British Royal family.
Dr. A. Bilal listened to an explanation that media outlets cannot possibly – under time pressure double-check the names and affiliations of programme participants or think tank experts, that errors can happen but the BBC has got a system of complaints and verifications and corrections.
The meeting ended on a positive note. A BBC delegation will visit the Sudan to finalise the details of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOM) that will cover all aspects including FM status.