Journalism: The Most Abused Profession in South Sudan (Part 1)

Posted: March 25, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël in Arop Madut-Arop, Columnists, Featured Articles, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

By Hon. Arop Madut Arop, Nairobi, Kenya

 media reporting

March 25, 2017 (SSB) —- The topic journalism; the most abused profession in the Republic of South Sudan, in particular and Africa at large, will be discussed, in several articles. The first part will revisit the origin of information gathering skill, the emergence of the modern press industry, as well as the first appearance and subsequent development of journalism as a profession. We will then turn and discuss the need to have a new vision for an African press, as opposed to capitalist and socialist press. This part will attempt to answer the question as to whether there is an absolute Freedom of the Press at all in the world. The second part will briefly look at the constraints encounter by journalists in their practice of their profession; hence the importance for the training of press men and women. The third part of the article will comment briefly about the introduction and development of the press, for the first time, in South Sudan, during the regional self-rule experiment (1972-1982) and the current pathetic situation of the press industry in the world youngest nation. The study will further discuss briefly, the importance and the need for the training of press men and press women in South Sudan, by the country ministry of information and broadcasting; assuming that the concerned authorities have learned useful lessons from the past experiences of the previous regional ministry of information authorities (1972-1982), when they managed and trained many journalists from scratch. Importantly the training of journalists is pivotal so that they can do their job of informing the general public accurately and satisfactorily about what concerned them directly or indirectly; in accordance to the norms and ethics of journalism profession. The third part will bring us to the conclusion about the central theme of our topic ‘’journalism the most abused profession in the Republic of South Sudan’’. In this concluding part, we will give classic comparative examples about the abused of journalism profession or lack of it in the world youngest nation. In this context we will compare the press coverage of the South Sudan current conflict by the Sudan Tribune and Radio Tamazuj Websites, on the one hand, with that of Gurtong Peace Trust and PaanLuel Wël Websites, on the other hand.  Let us now start discussing part one of the article.

THE ORIGIN OF INFORMATION SKILL AND THE EMERGENCE OF MODERN PRESS INDUSTRY

Information is in fact, is a word commonly used in our everyday life. But if you ask someone what information means, he may not give you a ready answer. The question which therefore begs for an answer; is what the word information is all about and who uses it? Fundamentally, the word information can be described as knowledge or an event that affects majority of the people. It is therefore in this setting that many researchers have come to believe that, information gathering skill is one of Mankind first organised social disciplines, developed as soon as man began to live in societies on this planet. I this context Information can be said to be as old as Mankind history on this planet.

Through an organised information network man was able to know about what was going on around his environments. He had to know where he could find food to eat, shelter to live in, animals to tame and new areas for protected settlements. Additionally, he had to find tools to cultivate crops for his survival as well as protecting himself from attacks by potential foes and wild animals.

Living in such hostile surroundings, Man adopted one of his first skills, the information gathering. He subsequently invented signs he used as means of giving warning the society of approaching dangers. Drums were also invented and used for socialising as well as alerting societies of imminent dangers threatening their very life. Equally important to mention, fire was also lit on the hills tops so that certain smoke signs could give information to others about imminent threats. As time went by, runners were employed to carry messages from one place to another. That was apparently how the information network and communications discipline was first conceived and introduced. The later invention of Letter-Press made the passing of information much easier than it had earlier been.

The later establishment of modern nation states enabled the rulers, Kings and Emperors to communicate with one another by sending and receiving written messages from their counter parts through messengers. The introduction of newspapers, following the invention of printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in Germany, heralded the birth of well-organised Information Network, which indeed, was a pivotal revolution. Leaflets and books were then written, printed and distributed.

The invention of Printing Press coincided with the dawn of the industrial revolution in Europe and the introduction of capitalism in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Thereafter came, the need for marketing goods and promoting trade among nations. The introduction of capital and industrialisation came with the introduction of the bourgeois Press in Europe and in North America. The subsequent global scrambling for minerals and natural resources gave birth to economic, political and information imperialism.

When, business communities in Europe decided to find raw materials further afield in effort to feed their newly established industries, there has arisen, a dire need to improve the system of information network. Sooner than later, information imperialism was stepped up. Thus Reuters in UK, Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI) were targeted at the Anglo-phone countries and Agence Frence Presse (AFP) for Franco-phone countries. As Europeans began to compete for profits making businesses, the press undoubtedly became one of them.

Under the UNESCO sponsored New World Information order, ushered in following the end of the Second World War, the freedom of the press like other forms of freedoms enshrined in the UN Charter has become of paramount importance. Under the UN Charter, all member states in the UN Body, strived hard to avail the opportunity for all citizens, the right to know and be informed through the media on the activities of both the de facto and the de jure governments, activities that can affect the people lives positively or negatively.

It was against this background that modern media industry was introduced. It became more important after the Second World War when it became expedient for the UN member states to make laws that regulate the press as one of human rights in their respective countries

From then on, changes of political systems and social structures made it even necessary and urgent to regulate the means of communicating between the citizens and their rulers. Among, the rights given to citizens under the UN Charter is, the freedom of assembly, freedom of association, and the freedom to know what the rulers were doing for them collectively refer to as the Bill of Rights. Today it goes without saying that the right for citizens to know what their rulers are doing for them becomes very urgent.

To satisfy the rights of citizens to know what their rulers are doing for them, has finally led to the enshrining the freedom of association and expression in the national and international constitutions. Essentially, Press became a fourth power in the system of checks and balance in the Western democracies.

THE APPERANCE AND DEVELOPMENT OF JOURNALISM AS A PROFESSION

Having discussed, the origin of the information gathering skill and the emergence of press industry, it would be important to shed light briefly on the development of press industry. It will also be important at this juncture for aspiring young journalists, to know what journalism is all about.

Generally speaking, journalism or the gathering and transmitting of information or news stories to the news consumers started with the modernisation of technology and trade in the nineteenth century as discussed. Since then, many newspapers and news agencies sprang up, the operation of media as an industry led to serious competition among the media houses. In the end many tycoons began to buy smaller news media, adding them to their businesses.

With the subsequent advent of the cold war period when the world became divided up into two opposing ideologically, political systems, the capitalist and the socialist blocs; each trying desperately to do away with the other, two schools of journalism were born: The Socialist or the so called guided press, in the eastern bloc countries and the capitalist or the so called liberal press in the western world.

In Western Europe and North America for example, the press, as an industry, stood for the capitalist way of development. In the course of time it also became a victim of exploitation when large media businesses swallowed smaller ones. Unfortunately, instead of making the media industry answerable for public control, like the judiciary, it became a preserve for profit makers only.

Unlike Legislature, Executive and the Judicature, in the system of checks and balance, the media industry, though given minimal legislation subsequently, press in the western democracies, was allowed to function in accordance to the profit-makers whims. With the advancement of the media industry the bigger news organisations made the press a power for king-making thereby giving it the label of power without responsibility.

Whereas the press in Western Europe and North America became means of informing the reading public and profit making, the media in the communist bloc Countries, also became vehicle for political and social control by the communist party system of rule. There, the press became to a larger extent an important political organ of the ruling elite, for absolute political control. According to V.I Lenin, the progenitor of communism as an ideology, the press must act as, an agitator, a propagandist and a mobiliser of the working people; aimed primarily at one goal, to bring them all on board without much dissent.

With the press in the socialist countries eventually becoming, a vehicle for total political control, exporting, Marxist-Leninist ideology to the third world countries, the Liberal Press in the West also became a business preserve for capitalist marketing competition and the spread of economic imperialism and cultural invasion around the world. It specifically targeted the developing countries.

In the later years, when the scrambling for raw materials became urgent in the capitalist blocs, a number of news agencies as business groupings were founded. The most important of these news organisations, as stated earlier, were Julius Reuters Associated Press, United Press International which dominated the Anglophone countries, while Agence France Presse targeted the Francophone countries. Precisely, the relation between the news organisations and the news producers became a ceaseless war that might be brought to a speedy end, perhaps by way of legislation.

THE NEED FOR A NEW VISION FOR AN AFRICAN PRESS

Having discusses the emergence of the press as tool for profit making in case of the capitalist bloc and an instrument for exporting socialist ideology by the Soviet bloc, it will be instructive to look at what became known as the third world press. Importantly, the experience in many countries soon after independence when the governments mismanaged affairs which often led to military dictatorships made it necessary to think about a need for new vision of what the press in Africa should be as opposed to the socialist and capitalist press.

Speaking about the role of the press in the developing countries in general and Africa in particular former President of Ghana, Dr Kwame Nkrumah had this to say: While the traditional role of the media is to inform the reading and the listening and viewing public about the activities of the political players, its role in the main, should be that of a political organiser, cultural mobiliser and social educator.

Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s principle, in essence, does evolve around the fact that the press should broaden its traditional vision to include the environment in which the people live. It will be important to state that, the press/media in Africa, according to Dr Kwame Nkrumah, should not become an industry for profit-making only neither for political control.

It was in this light that the third world or developing countries the world over, adopted mix economy as a mid-way mode of development, a system between socialism and capitalism so to speak. According to Dr Kwame Nkrumah, media in Africa and in the developing countries should both be commercial enterprises, para-statal or state owned corporations. There is no contradiction, according to Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s, for the three types of press/media: commercial, state owned and parastatal corporations to co-exist, since the purpose of their existence stem from the same interest, to make a free flow of information to the people. In other words, according to Dr Kwame Nkrumah the media should be a peoples’ media, looking and catering for the vital interests of the people needs: socially, politically and above all, culturally.

Looking at Dr Kwame Nkrumah approach, for the press to be free, it should not be misunderstood to mean that anyone is free to publish anything that adversely affects others for instance, the state security and the public morals. The para-statal, in this context should not control the press either. This precisely means that, journalists must be well trained before they can be accredited to both commercial and parastatal media.

If for instance, people who have chosen to become engineers, medical and judicial cadres are expected to undergo many years of study at the highest educational institutions before they are accredited to work; why should it not also be done in the same way for journalists, whose work affects the system of communicating between the ruled and the rulers? Why should they be expected to perform their profession adequately when they only know the ABC of the art of journalism for reporting news? In my humble opinion, Journalists must be well versed and take professional training like doctors, lawyers and engineers. As for Radio or broadcasting in general both the commercial and public institutions have harmoniously co-exist to some extent.

The wire media unfortunately, have totally been given to commercial profit makers to a large extent as they depend entirely on the sale of advertisements. These make them publish sensational material regardless to the impact and effects of what they publish would bring to bear on the public morals or state security. As it is educated and informative to look into the past, the article will quote instances.

In Britain for instance, there are both parastal and commercial Radio and TV stations functioning smoothly side by side for decades, if not for centuries. It is useful to recall that, it was only after almost 500 hundred years of press and media industry development that both: the press, BBC Radio and Independent Television stations, and Radios are currently guided by the policy of minimal legislation.

I support press regulation in Africa, because there are many things at stake. Societies are still tribally based as they continue to live in primordial era. Thus, any misuse of the press/media, by journalists who learn the profession through job training and no ethics of how to follow the ethics of their profession, may promote ceaseless tribal conflicts. The case in point is the current social media and press coverage of the current war in South Sudan.

As was the case in Europe, when minimal legislation was adopted after many years of press development, minimal legislation for the commercial media, political party media or the government owned press/media in Africa in particular and the developing countries in general, must be guided by press or media  laws. African lawmakers must make laws for the press to be based on ethics, norms and traditional way of life in Africa. Importantly, the vital role of the media must be aimed at efforts to inform the public correctly about what is at stake, namely their wellbeing and the future development of their country. There should be a clause in all African constitutions that makes the media, a real fourth power.

Because, like the other three branches of governance: legislature, executive and the judicature, which are sponsored and administered by the state, while they function independently; the press and media in general and social media in particular in Africa, to a large extent, must not be left in the hands of profiteers. In concluding this part of the article; African Media in accordance to Dr Kwame Nkrumah’s principle must not only be a tool to inform the people about things their leaders are doing for them;  it must, in the main; educate, mobilise, organise, guard and guide their hard won achievements: Peace, Stability and Prosperity in their countries (more to follow).

Hon Arop Madut Arop, currently an MP for Abyei at SSLA and an international media consultant, holds a Diploma in Socialist journalism – International institute of journalism (East Berlin); Advanced Diploma in Liberal Journalism International Institute of Media Studies (West Berlin) and Masters of Arts Degree in International Journalism (City University of London). He is the author of two books: Sudan Painful Road to Peace, a full story of the founding and development of SPLM/SPLA (2006) and The Genesis of political consciousness in South Sudan (2012). He is also author of a number of unpublished books. He can be reached at gotnyiel122@hotmail.com

The opinion expressed here is solely the view of the writer. The veracity of any claim made is the responsibility of the author, not PaanLuel Wël: South Sudanese Bloggers (SSB) website. If you want to submit an opinion article or news analysis, please email it to paanluel2011@gmail.com. SSB do reserve the right to edit material before publication. Please include your full name, email address and the country you are writing from.

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