“Canadian News Media and Reporting on Talisman in Sudan”
Canadian news reporting on Talisman Energy’s presence in Sudan has been for the most part uninspired and unsustained, though there have been some notable exceptions (e.g., Charlie Gillis of the National Post, Madelaine Drohan of the Globe and Mail, producer Heather Abbott of the CBC). On many occasions news reporting has been clearly tendentious, with a bias that makes a mockery of journalistic integrity. Claudia Cattaneo, Calgary-based reporter for The National Post, is only the most egregiously irresponsible. Fortunately for Sudan, with Talisman’s withdrawal from the country’s oil operations, this is now irrelevant. But there has been a last gasp of shoddy Canadian journalism and editorializing, largely taking the form of an acknowledgement that Talisman’s presence in Sudan was morally indefensible, but an insistence that its exit is inconsequential. This is simply wrong, and its repetition by reporters and editorial writers who haven’t bothered to follow the news coming out of Sudan simply compounds a national disgrace.
Eric Reeves [November 5, 2002]
Northampton, MA 01063
The essential editorial line in Canadian “news” reporting and editorializing is that whatever one thinks of Talisman’s four-year presence in Sudan—amidst the most destructive civil conflict in the world, with scorched-earth destruction and clearances of civilians documented by every human rights assessment conducted—Talisman’s exit is inconsequential. A Globe and Mail editorial (Nov 2) declares knowingly that Talisman’s withdrawal “will do absolutely nothing to improve the lot of the Sudanese people or bring them closer to a peaceful resolution of a bloody conflict that has raged for nearly two decades.”
Perhaps if those writing such an editorial at the Globe and Mail had bothered to do a bit of research, they might have come closer to understanding why pressure was brought on Talisman to exit in the first place. The most authoritative human rights report to date on the consequences of oil development in Western Upper Nile was produced by Georgette Gagnon and John Ryle, following extensive on-the-ground research. Ms. Gagnon is a Canadian human rights lawyer who served on the Harker Mission, assembled by the Canadian foreign ministry in 1999 to investigate oil development in Sudan; John Ryle is an anthropologist and one of the world’s most distinguished authorities on southern Sudan.
The Gagnon/Ryle Report disappeared with barely a Canadian news media trace when it was released a year ago (October 2001), despite its authority and the extraordinarily damning conclusions it reached. Gagnon and Ryle found in Talisman’s oil concessions not only abundant evidence of massive scorched-earth warfare of the sort that had been chronicled in previous reports (including the report of the Harker Mission, those of the UN Special Rapporteur for Sudan, and of Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Christian Aid), but clear evidence that Talisman airstrips were continuing to be used by Khartoum’s helicopter gunships for attacks on civilians as part of this scorched-earth/cleared-earth policy.
This extraordinarily well-researched report also asserted what has so far not received the attention of a single Canadian news report:
“Talisman’s access to significant levels of capital, its global experience and its mastery of advanced technologies of oil exploration and extraction were the key to the rapidity with which oil from the wells in Western Upper Nile came on stream. It has been estimated that if Talisman withdrew from the consortium, the shortfall in technical expertise would cause production to drop by 30%.”
“Report of an Investigation into Oil development, Conflict and Displacement in Western Upper Nile, Sudan,” October 2001 (Georgette Gagnon [Canada] and John Ryle [UK]), page 37
If this is so, and there has certainly been no rebuttal offered by any credible reporting source, then the obvious consequence would be a significantly diminished revenue stream for the National Islamic Front regime in Khartoum—the regime that has used oil revenues to expand massively its acquisition of military hardware. Less than a week ago, Agence France-Presse reported from Khartoum on the regime’s accelerating military ambitions (October 31, 2002): “Sudan’s parliament has approved a plan to strengthen the armed forces next year in order to smash the country’s rebel movements and recapture all lost territory, despite ongoing peace talks.”
The financial resources to realize such ambitions will be diminished with Talisman’s withdrawal. That this fact has not been reported by the Canadian news media makes it no less important.
It is also the case that the Khartoum regime has relentlessly and resourcefully used the presence of Talisman Energy as a means of obscuring the nature of conflict in the oil regions, and as moral cover for its oil operations. Talisman’s presence has also been used to entice European countries to enter into commercial deals funded with Talisman-generated petrodollars. Some examples:
 [BBC Monitoring Service – United Kingdom, Mar 5, 2001:
Text of report in English by Sudanese News Agency (SUNA),
5 March, 2001]:
“Minister of Energy and Mining Dr Awad Ahmad al-Jaz described the decision of the Canadian Talisman Company [sic] to continue its oil investment in Sudan as evidence on prevalence of security and appropriate investment climate in the country.”
From Reuters (January 13, 2000)
 Abdelbagi Kabir, deputy director of Sudan’s peace and humanitarian affairs department, said the investment by Talisman and others showed there was no truth to the idea that Sudan was a deeply divided state with fundamental internal problems.
“We think this foreign investment [by Talisman Energy] could only be evidence of tranquility and a prosperous atmosphere,” he said.
“The Canadian investment in the southern part of country could only (limit) any reason for anyone to further the armed struggle because these (oil) revenues…have been directed directly to the welfare of people in those areas.”
Why has such vicious duplicity and outrageous mendacity, clearly funded by Canadian moral capital, not been an issue for the Canadian news media? Why has there been no mention of it on the occasion of Talisman’s exit from Sudan? There are no answers that do not bring greater shame to Canada.