A recent survey demonstrates that internally displaced people and refugees in and around Darfur recognize the Darfur News and Information Service (DNIS) as their most trusted source of news. Having surged from 2% recognition among its target audience to 81% in just two years, the service provides in-depth news and a weekly drama to support the region’s vulnerable population. DNIS is operated by Education Development Center’s (EDC) Sudan Radio Service (SRS) for the U.S. Department of State.
Though DNIS is on the air just one hour a day, six days a week, it is the second most popular radio service in Darfur. Among 477 respondents to a face-to-face survey, conducted by the independent firm Synovate, Ltd., DNIS had more recognition and regular listeners than BBC, Voice of America, or Radio Dabanga (a Dutch service). It was surpassed in listenership only by Omdurman, a full-time, government-owned FM station.
DNIS listeners requested more programming hours and better reception; the service is broadcast via two shortwave frequencies, with the transmissions subject to interference. Perhaps most striking, the survey shows that listeners view DNIS as their local Darfur news and information station.
"Beautiful programs': enthusiasm among listeners
Listeners have sent text messages to SRS indicating their enthusiasm for DNIS. “I always listen to SRS; it is like a daily meal and provides the best news on Darfur,” reported a man from Northern Darfur. A listener from Alfasher stated, “I thank SRS for all its beautiful programs that help us solve a lot of our problems.” Of the more than 600 text messages received from DNIS listeners since the beginning of the year, 92% contain positive comments.
Listeners also express appreciation for the way Al-Dawahi, the weekly drama, addresses the issues facing many Darfuris on a daily basis. Belshafafia is an in-depth news program that follows the drama, often exploring the same topics.
In an early Al-Dawahi episode, a young woman, pregnant and ashamed after being raped by militia members, takes her own life. The following Belshafafia program uses interviews with victims, their family members, and experts, as well as reporting from respected human rights groups, to explore the problem of sexual violence in Darfur. Other topics covered include health, tribal conflicts, education, and peace negotiations.
DNIS began broadcasting to Darfur on January 7, 2009. Airing Saturday through Thursday, the program features a fifteen-minute newscast in Darfurian Arabic, which provides objective, non-partisan news to the people of Darfur and Darfur refugees living in camps in Darfur and across the border in Chad. This is followed by a “Language of the Day” newscast in one of three local languages: Masalit, Fur, or Zaghawa. The Al-Dawahi series alternates with Belshafafia in the program’s second half-hour.
News that is used
Because Darfur is almost a closed area and a security risk for reporters to visit, it is difficult to chart life changes brought about by the DNIS. Still, the recent survey shows that almost all Darfuris now are accessing an objective source of news and information. SMS messages show clearly how listeners value solid, reliable information; information that often exposes the violence and corruption citizens face on a daily basis. One listener SMS message expresses how this in-depth treatment of important local issues gets to the heart of Darfuri life: “Belshafafia stabs the elephant and not its shadow!” Such comments indicate that Darfuris recognize and appreciate hearing the truth.
DNIS programs don’t stop there, however. They direct citizens to proper agencies where they can go to get support for women and girls threatened by early marriage or where young people can go to find employment. Perhaps most importantly, DNIS provides positive examples of how citizens can deal with day to day problems like disputes between farmers and herders over land or water rights, or how families and communities can find a balance between traditional and modern approaches to treatment of disease or inter-tribal problems.