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Lindsey Hilsum: Sudan civil war overlooked because of Ukraine and Gaza

The Channel 4 News international editor said her coverage could help future criminal prosecutions.

By Charlotte Tobitt

Channel 4 News international editor Lindsey Hilsum has said the Sudan civil war is causing more suffering than other conflicts higher up the news agenda.

Hilsum said the “terrible” war between the Sudan Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces (RSF) militia is “the worst humanitarian crisis in the world and because of Ukraine and Gaza, it’s getting very little attention”.

Hilsum, cameraman Soren Munk and producer Zahra Warsame got into Sudan last month, just over a year after the war started. She credited Warsame who “spent nine months getting us visas and just pushing, pushing, pushing for access and very few people have managed to get in”.

[‘A story like this is hard to leave behind’: Lindsey Hilsum of Channel 4 News writes in April 2022 on reporting from Ukraine]

They discovered an “extreme” situation that included an RSF torture chamber created in a former family home, complete with a pit dug into the floor and a pulley suspended from the ceiling.

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Speaking at an event to celebrate ITN‘s archives at the broadcast production company’s London headquarters on Thursday, Hilsum said “nobody” had filmed a torture centre like that before.

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“We knew about it because I had read about it in a Sudanese newspaper. Even the Sudanese military who we were with didn’t know about it. So… that is the first time this torture centre or any similar torture centre by the RSF has been filmed.

“This is not just part of the historical record, this is the kind of thing that can be used in international criminal tribunals because this is evidence. This is what these people do. And that’s why I feel that reporting from a place like Sudan which gets so little attention is so important.”

Hilsum pointed out that it wasn’t an easy trip – filming in 44-degree heat and sleeping in a room with rat droppings and a generator emitting petrol fumes.

“The conditions were not easy but I feel that it’s really important. And that is something that will go into ITN’s archive and that will be something that will be used by prosecutors…”

[From the Press Gazette archive: Channel 4 News international editor Lindsey Hilsum on war reporting, women journalists and celebrating Marie Colvin]

Hilsum highlighted another Channel 4 News exclusive and how it more than proved its worth: a trip into Equatorial Guinea in 2003 with Munk after she got “obsessed” with the story that the country’s leader Teodoro Obiang was extorting income from the oil boom.

It took a long time for her to persuade then Channel 4 News editor Jim Gray that it was an “important story” but eventually managed to go.

Hilsum said footage from the trip, which included a rare interview with Obiang, proved a goldmine after an attempted coup in the country a year later.

“ITN were the only people who had that kind of footage of the leader of Equatorial Guinea and an interview with him.

“So I hope I earn my keep normally in my day job, but I think with that archive, Soren and I have earned our keep several times over because it’s sold and resold and resold.”

This week ITN announced it has struck a UK-first deal with technology company Open Origins to validate and secure its archive of more than a million video clips – totalling about 72,500 hours with three to four hours added each day – on the blockchain to give it proof of originality and provenance  in a world of AI-generated content.

Hilsum revealed that looking back on her career she often marvels at the fact she was present for significant moments in history.

“I went into journalism because I wanted to be where history is happening,” she said. “But sometimes when you’re there at those historical moments, you don’t quite understand the significance of what you’re seeing.

“But when you’re working for ITN, for Channel 4 News… whoever I’m with is filming it all around us and so sometimes I just look at it and go, wow, we were there. I was there.”

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Select and enter your email address Weekly insight into the big strategic issues affecting the future of the news industry. Essential reading for media leaders every Thursday. Your morning brew of news about the world of news from Press Gazette and elsewhere in the media. Sent at around 10am UK time. Our weekly does of strategic insight about the future of news media aimed at US readers. A fortnightly update from the front-line of news and advertising. Aimed at marketers and those involved in the advertising industry.
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