BROOKE GLADSTONE: This is On the Media. I'm Brooke Gladstone.
BOB GARFIELD: And I'm Bob Garfield. Peace talks among the various warring factions and the Sudanese government collapsed Wednesday, so the wave of mayhem, murder and disease that is killing an estimated 6 to 10,000 people a month in the Western region of Darfur will most likely roll on and on. And who's to blame? Sudanese Foreign Minister Mustafa Osman Ismail points his finger at a man who wasn't there -- U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell. Last week, Powell invoked the word "genocide" to describe what's happening in Darfur, thereby encouraging the rebels, says Ismail, to show more fanaticism and stubbornness. As is usual in such cases, the world press was late to the front pages on this story. Here to tell us why is Kenneth Bacon, president of Refugees International. Ken, welcome to On the Media.
KENNETH BACON: Glad to be here.
BOB GARFIELD: First of all, Secretary Powell recently used the word genocide in his testimony about Darfur before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. That is not a word that generally springs easily from an American official's lips. What's the significance?
KENNETH BACON: The fact that Powell has called it genocide is important, because I think it removes a barrier that we've observed since World War II where government officials have been reluctant to use, understandably, reluctant to use the term genocide. So he's used the term, and now the question is - what do you do? Does it make sense to sit by and watch genocide happen? That's where we are now.
BOB GARFIELD: The coverage until very recently has been quite sparse on the human catastrophe in Darfur. Has the world been sitting on its hands because it, it simply didn't know about this story - because the media have fallen down on the job?
KENNETH BACON: The government of Sudan worked very hard to suppress coverage, to keep reporters out. They also understood that television coverage could be very damaging to them, and they worked particularly hard to keep TV crews out. It's interesting to note that the first international TV coverage of the death and displacement in Darfur appeared on Al Jazeera, the Arab satellite channel, in December of 2003. The government of Sudan closed their bureau in Khartoum, confiscated all their equipment, and jailed the correspondent.
BOB GARFIELD: You have a piece in the current Columbia Journalism Review where you're going step by step through the various tactics that the Sudanese government uses. Tell me what the government is doing specifically to physically keep reporters away from Darfur.
KENNETH BACON: Well, it can be difficult to get visas to visit Sudan, and once you get the visa to go to the capital of Khartoum, you have to receive permission to travel into Darfur. Emily Wax, of the Washington Post, waited for over a month and, in fact, never got it. She waited so long that she took an apartment in Khartoum. She finally got in with some high level visitors, including the French foreign minister and Kofi Annan and was able to write some really striking stories. Second, once you get official permission to go into Darfur, when you get there, you need additional permission from the security forces to go out and look around, and they assign you a monitor or a minder who ends up taking you to the places the government wants you to see, and preventing you from going to some places that you might want to see on your own.
BOB GARFIELD: A decade ago, we were watching this very similar situation play out in Rwanda amid enormous amount of coverage in the Western media. The situation in Sudan has resulted in less coverage to date. Had the media been unrestricted there and with cameras rolling and the evening news showing all of the grim reality, do you suppose it would have made a difference?
KENNETH BACON: I think it would have made a difference. I think the CNN effect is, in fact, real, and that when people see atrocities on TV, they react to them. One example of that is the, the scenes of torture at Abu Ghraib Prison. It was the visuals that, that really infuriated people, that made them realize how outrageous this behavior was, and had they been able to see pictures of mass graves, of men and boys gunned down, of women who had been raped, I think they would have reacted much more quickly than they have. In the case of Darfur, some of the earliest reports about what was going on in the United States came on radio. These were, in fact, detailed and very important reports, but even a really graphic radio report doesn't have the same impact that pictures have.
BOB GARFIELD: All, right, Ken. Well, thank you very much.
KENNETH BACON: Sure.
BOB GARFIELD: Former Pentagon spokesman Kenneth Bacon is president of Refugees International. [MUSIC]