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July 24, 2023

Tech platform aims to offer secure outlet for verified journalism in Sudan

Blockchain technology will track published content to safely – and accurately – file stories from the conflict.

By Amy Jenkins

A new technology platform for journalists is launching in Sudan that aims to offer a solution to the acute challenges reporters are facing in the country.

The Sudanese Journalist Syndicate (SJS) has partnered with the British/Swedish development company Recall@k to create a “digital and modern content system” allowing them to publish stories in safety for a domestic and international audience.

With Sudan engulfed in civil war, journalists are regularly targeted by rival factions and have faced raids, harassment and arrest. The SJS was formed in August 2022 in defiance of military rule to demand freedom of speech, to protect journalists’ employment rights and in response to the rise in the number of attacks on journalists since the October 2021 coup.

Sudan ranks 148th of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index, with at least seven journalists detained so far this year and at least a further two facing public calls to be killed. RSF believes there may be many more unreported attacks on journalists in Darfur, where the fighting has been most severe and communications are limited.

Balance of safety and transparency

SJS members are based both in Sudan and abroad, with a large number of journalists living in Cairo, including 40 assisted by RSF. Others have been refused visas to travel.

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Initial funding for the technology project is being provided by Sudan’s Regional Centre for Development and Training of Civil Society (RCDCS) and further
funding is expected from international stakeholders such as the European Union and the UK government.

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Recall@K CEO Henrik Eklund described Sudan as “a country which has not been functioning from a media perspective for quite a few decades” and anticipates it will be “years [where] we need protection and systems to actually cover stories from Sudan”.

Eklund emphasises there is a need to balance transparent journalism with journalists’ safety, pointing out that “journalists often want to be seen and they want the byline, and they want to be known as a journalist”.

“But at the same time, if there’s a threat to you as a journalist, you still need to be protected and to be able to tell a story, but that story has to be traceable…if you don’t flag the journalist or the journalist wants to stay anonymous, you need to be able to show that the story actually happened.”

‘The importance of a working free press cannot be overstated’

Taking the form of an app and central CMS, Eklund describes how the approximate 1200 journalists who are registered with SJS will be able “to create, co-create and upload stories for vetting” by a peer-review system.

Once a story has been edited – “if the internet is working” – it can be uploaded and stored in servers outside Sudan. “If the internet is cut, you could use different technologies to actually find hotspots where you can upload stories,” Eklund says.

Once uploaded, the pieces, along with photos and video evidence, will be held and verified by other journalists for “accuracy, truthfulness and quality”. This vetting process will be visible to publishers.

“Stories ready for publishing will be handled by a central desk managing the various outputs” with SJS initially publishing selected stories itself in a bid to counter fake news spread on social media.

In the long term, SJS envisions acting as a provider of news to agencies such as the Associated Press.

According to Eklund, Sudan has “no functional local media” and the rapid spread of stories about competing factions across social media has contributed to widescale violence against journalists.

Eklund said the use of blockchain technology will mean stories can be traced and defended should they be challenged in court without compromising journalists’ identities. Any profits generated will be “transported back into the system” and journalists will be able to generate revenue from their work.

Eklund noted that “the environment in Sudan is not unique” and suggested the platform could be made available in other countries where there is a need for “something independent, that can function in an environment that is also controlled”.

Tahir Elmuatsim, secretary of external affairs for the SJS, said, “The importance of a working free press in securing democracy cannot be overstated.” He also emphasised the critical role “a transparent and independent media” plays in “holding power accountable, promoting civic engagement, and safeguarding democratic values”.

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