The National Radio Corporation (NRC) was established in the 1940s during the colonial era to act as a public broadcasting body and it has continued to be the government’s official news channel. Since the independence of Sudan, the government has continued to invest in NRC maintaining its structure as a governmental institution with a clear political agenda and national strategy.
The regime’s rigid policies and strong restrictions have impeded audience research or consumer research of market needs. There is no available or accessible data about usage and consumption and no transparency about the revenue of the NRC. However, in 2014 the National Ministry’s Central Bureau of Statistics and its UN partner, collected data about household ownership of televisions and radios as a measure of access to mass media and of mobile phones/telephones as an indicator of access to efficient means of communication. The survey results showed that 35.2 percent of the households own a radio and that urban households are more likely than rural households to own a television (71.1 percent compared with 26.3 percent respectively).
These results could reflect the effect of current policies in the centralisation of services and media consumption geographically. The economic distribution of resources affects the decision of rural people to access information or purchase means of communication leaving them with the one signal, voice and message of the NRC. The discrepancy between the ownership of radios in rural areas versus urban areas might not necessarily represent listenership or consumption as rural communities tend to listen in groups. There are more than 18 state radio stations and they are funded and supported by the government.
The primary outreach is through FM radios and their main focus is in commercial- and advertisement-based education and entertainments products. The religious-based channels also receive a lot of advertisement revenue as there are less restrictions over them as some of them are supporters of the ruling party and disseminate messages that resonate with current regime policies. Stations tend to air music and entertainment programming, such as the popular Mango 96 FM, and avoid material that would likely attract censorship. One exception is Khartoum FM, which is owned by the former Minister of Finance Abdel Rahim Hamdi and serves as a talk show discussing economic issues from a pro-government position. Any attempt to cross government policy lines or to design content that interferes with its interest, will result in the government closing the station.
To avoid the restricted media environment in the country, yet challenge the regime’s political statements and stance, some opposition leaders and activists have made several attempts to establish television and radio channels outside the country. Also, media-based organisations specialising in peacebuilding reconciliation and rights advocacy have engaged in similar initiatives in an attempt to support freedom of expression in the country.
For example, Radio Dabanga and Afia Darfur were founded to support the political process in the country by allowing other views to evolve and increase the representation of unheard voices. Radio Dabanga is produced by an organisation based in the Netherlands and broadcasts via shortwave and the Internet, while Afia Darfur broadcasts live programming from the neighbouring country of Chad. A public debate is currently in place, where the government and its supporters try to discredit those stations, contending that the radio stations are “promoting the agendas of rebel groups”, while the radio stations describe themselves as presenting unbiased information, and as bringing the news from unheard voices. Although the ruling party has tried to undermine these media groups, they have developed listenership and gained popularity especially in the regions affected by the conflict.
In some situations, private channels have been directly funded by foreign governments and this situation creates reluctance to listenership as a matter of principle in not involving foreigners in the internal politics of the country. Some of these initiatives, however, have been challenged by the lack of funding which is based upon the project’s cycle and balances political interest and general audience interests. At the time of writing this report, news was circulating that the US government would not fund the Afia Darfur radio programme and the all-news and information program might announce its closure soon.