The Canadian news media would seem to have lost their voice about Sudan, and the role of Canada’s Talisman Energy in sustaining Sudan’s agony. But this can only add to the shame most Canadians feel at the role of Talisman in exacerbating conflict and suffering in Africa’s longest and most destructive civil war.
Eric Reeves [January 18, 2000]
Northampton, MA 01063
Perhaps it’s a case of terminal embarrassment: having seen Talisman management bluster its way through damning report after damning report, the media have decided they don’t want to call further attention to this “terrible cross of dishonour for Canada” (former Canadian UN Ambassador Stephen Lewis’s recent description of Talisman). But Canadian silence cannot still the voices of Sudanese suffering, cannot end the sound of bombs being dropped on innocent civilians, cannot end the screams by women raped and men tortured as part of the “security” the Khartoum regime accords Talisman. Nor can it end the cries of children starving because Talisman’s business partner, this same Khartoum regime, persists with its strategy of engineered famine.
Certainly it can’t be for a lack of news that the Canadian news media don’t talk about Sudan.
Nowhere else in the world has the Foreign Minister of a country recognized by Canada publicly announced a policy (indeed emphasizing its continuation) of deliberately bombing clearly civilian targets, including hospitals, schools, churches, emergency feeding stations, and undefended villages [reported by Agence France-Press, Jan 3, 2001]. Such deliberate aerial assaults on innocent civilian life are reported on a daily basis from the region—if the Canadian media would only listen.
Nowhere else in the world is oil development so clearly implicated in massive scorched-earth warfare and the perpetuation of immensely destructive civil conflict—and Talisman Energy remains the only Western participant in the consortium at the center of this development project. Oil development in Sudan is more destructive than anywhere else in the world—there is no close second.
No other Canadian company operating internationally does more to support a brutally, savagely repressive regime that relentlessly and obdurately obstructs a peace process that all the world recognizes as moral urgent. This is Talisman’s opprobrious distinction, though it is no longer reported.
And is it not newsworthy that Talisman has recently massively expanded its activities in Sudan? Their reach now extends well to the southwest of the concession areas that have so far been the site of extremely well-documented oil-related human suffering and destruction [reported by Reuters, November 20, 2000—unreported by any Canadian news media].
With only a couple of exceptions, the Canadian news media have been painfully silent since a brief flurry of coverage almost a year ago at the time of the release of the Harker Mission Report (commissioned by Lloyd Axworthy). The findings then have only been amplified since—by Amnesty International (whose extraordinary report [May 3, 2000] went without notice in Canada), an additional report from the UN Special Rapporteur for Sudan (again issued without notice in Canada), and numerous other independent reports.
Have the findings of the Harker report [January 2000] lost their significance? Does it no longer matter that “a ‘swath of scorch earth/cleared territory’ is being created around the oilfields”? Is it any less significant in January of 2001 that “oil is exacerbating conflict in Sudan”? Is Sudanese suffering any less now than it was when the Harker report concluded that “the oil operations in which a Canadian company is involved add more suffering [to the “extraordinary suffering” of the people of southern Sudan]”?
To be sure Canadians seem to be responding to Talisman’s brutally callous complicity in Sudan’s agony. Talisman share price continues to be battered. The multiple on cash flow per share (under 3x) continues to be dismal. The stock is only a few dollars higher than its 1999 (pre-divestment campaign) high—despite a 400% increase in net income for year 2000. Most analysts believe there is a $15 – $25 “Sudan discount” in the share price. And there is never a mention of Talisman that does not include the dark moral cloud over the company (witness the recent financial press discussion of Talisman’s apparent efforts to acquire Enterprise Oil, and the problem created by Talisman’s Sudan-depressed share price).
Analysts keep putting themselves on record as saying that Talisman stock is “cheap”—and Canadian and American investors keep selling shares anyway.
But news is not in Talisman’s share price woes; news is in Sudan, where corporate complicity in the oil-driven destruction of that country should signal newsworthiness of the first order. The evident contentment of Canadian news media with a stale and homogenized view of oil-related Sudanese suffering and destruction is a disgrace. The unwillingness to see that the situation as dynamic, with significant events and developments being reported constantly by the news wires, is similarly disgraceful.
And most disgraceful is the lack of strong editorial commentary on the implications of Talisman’s determination to remain part of this horrific story, and their disingenuous defense of their obduracy. We can be sure that Canadian media silence now will find no comparable silence in what history will record of this moment of culpable indifference.