Journalism: The Most Abused Profession in South Sudan (Part 3)

Posted: April 5, 2017 by PaanLuel Wël in Arop Madut-Arop, Columnists, Featured Articles, Opinion Articles, Opinion Writers

By Hon. Arop Madut Arop, Nairobi, Kenya

media reporting

THE FUNCTION OF A NEWSPAPER INDUSTRY AND THE STATE OF THE PRESS IN SOUTH SUDAN

April 5, 2017 (SSB) —- In part three of this article, we will discuss the function of a newspaper’s concept, identity and its management. This part will shed some light on how a newspaper is conceived and born. This is important because many business people in South Sudan in particular, have started establishing newspapers without making thorough market research or by consulting with those better informed about this vital profession, which affects lives of people. The sad endgame is that, majority of newspapers, in Juba today, except few ones, like Juba Monitor and the Arabic Daily al Moufeg, do not reflect what newspapers are expected to provide. In the second part, we will also discuss the first appearance of press in the then Southern Region of the then Sudan and the present pathetic state of the media in South Sudan. The last part will discuss about the dire need for the training of press men and press women in the world youngest nation, the Republic of South Sudan. Finally, in the opinion of this author is an urgent need for enactment of laws that hold responsible only, the media managements; and not the poor untrained reporters who have been getting the brunt of the discrepancies in the news gathering process in South Sudan.

NEWSPAPER: CONCEPT, IDENTITY AND MANAGEMENT

Like a human being, a newspaper must be conceived and deliver. Like a human being, a newspaper must have an identity. Like a human being it must have a body, face, ears to hear, nose to smell and eyes to see. Like human being it must be reliable and trusted. Like human being it must be famous and focus.  Like a human being it must have properties that make the people who are going to be served; like it and even identify with it. In short a newspaper must have a good manner and speaks the truth. Truth is sacred and has to be handled with care. As former British Prime Minister, late Sir Winston Churchill once put it; truth is so precious to extent that it must be accompanied by a body guard of lies.

Basically a newspaper, like other social disciplines is a service to the people and the country as a whole. Once newspaper has been conceived and born, be it tabloid or broad sheet or periodical, it has to be organised in such way that it can inform the general public about things that affect them directly or indirectly. In each case, the paper so organised must serve categories of the general public. It must also have; local regional, national or foreign character. Apart of its traditional role to inform the general public, it must also educate and entertain its readers. The standard newspapers that are edited by highly educated and well trained professional journalists, are expected to collect news stories about major news events. Apart from covering political and business news, it must also report stories of man-made or natural disasters that affect the general public.

Regrettably, the newspapers that currently awash Juba streets, do just collect second hand information from the social media or news hands out, by dominant authorities and business organisations in order to fill up the pages of their so called newspapers. Instead of sending reporters out to the scene of the news breaking, in effort to investigate and give accurate accounts of what they see physically and by giving eyewitness accounts of the actual events. Importantly, topical news events published by a standard newspaper should, as a tradition, be followed by an editorial on the main news item, at the front page popularly called the LEAD; a journalistic jargon. One may like to know why an editorial on the lead. Fundamentally, the Lead is the most topical event of the day that affects majority of the people like sudden eruption of a man-made or natural disaster or an abrupt government reshuffle. Traditionally, an editorial, gives the opinion of the newspaper management concerning the lead item of the day.

Unfortunately, most of newspapers in South Sudan, as I write, do not write editorials on the lead news item. But when they do, the editorial is absolutely irrelevant to the lead at the front page. When someone now reads the lead on the paper in Juba newspapers, expecting to see an editorial on the next page, he will, embarrassingly, find out that there is no editorial.  But when there is, it is on a different news topic, which the editor selects at random and at his whim. Another unfortunate thing to mention about the operation of newspapers in Juba today has also to do with the absence of the letters to the editor. Through which the citizens or readers can discuss their social problems or important matters that concerned them with the relevant governing authorities. The citizens can equally receive feedback through the editor comments.

In essence, a standard newspaper must always also publish cultural activities of the society in diversities in which it operates. The case in point has to do with South which is multi-cultural, multi-ethnic and multi faiths society and Sudan which they would like to serve. Sports activities by the youths either locally or internationally, are published by most standard newspapers.  Pages covering sports activities are rare in the Juba daily newspapers. In the practice of journalism worldwide, reporters/journalists are sent out daily by the media houses; to the hotels, airport, conference centres or parliaments in order to collect information for their respective media.

Generally speaking, obtaining news from ever unwilling newsmakers or from business organisation, is a nerve wrecking affair that needs reporters with journalistic personalities and public relations qualities. It becomes more difficult when the media send out reporters who are not well trained and well equipped with communications skills that can make them approach newsmakers or business corporations, with ease and in relaxed atmosphere. It becomes even more difficult for a reporter, who lacks the courage to interview high ranking security and defence personnel. And since news is not stationery, the reporters must always be on the move. They must be very mobile, because mobility is the corner stone in the news gathering process.

Importantly, news producers in their mobility to find good stories for their newspaper/media may stumble on unexpected newsworthy stories or leaks, which other media journalists may have not come across. Advisably young men and women who are involved in the news gathering operations must equip themselves with journalistic tools; namely a note book, a pen a camera and nose for news. In essence, news is a journalistic jargon which means, any global topical event that affects majority of the people from the four corners of our globe, north, east, west and south (News). The original acronym for news is tidings. We will now discuss the theme of the article, journalism the most abused profession in the Republic of South Sudan.

THE DAWN OF THE PRESS IN SOUTH SUDAN

The following is a brief history of the first appearance of the press in South Sudan during the regional self-rule (1972-1982). The state of the press during the interim period (2005-2011) and after the country became an independent republic will also be discussed. The rationale in this discussion is to share some of my experiences, as a veteran journalist who had worked in newspaper industry for decades, with my comrades in the current newspaper industry in the world youngest nation, the Republic of South Sudan. Please bear with me.

When the Addis Ababa accord was signed between the government of the Sudan and the South Sudan Liberation movement 1972, an autonomous regional government, aka the regional High executive council, was put in place. During the initial establishment of the regional administration, the President of the regional government, Justice Abel Alier, ordered for immediate transfer of many professional, trained and experienced South Sudanese officials from the central government; where they had acquired valuable skills about the mechanic and theories of public administration management. After their appointment, these officials successfully established various administrative infrastructures in the new region.

While all the ministries in the newly established region had trained and long experienced professional officials appointed, the only department, which did not have experienced journalists or information staff, was the regional ministry of information. The reason was that the few professional and experienced journalists: Bona Malwal and Mading de Garang were appointed ministers in the central government and in the South Region, respectfully.

The other experienced and professional journalists, who would have laid down sound administrative structure of the information ministry: Ambrose Wol Dhal Wol and George Akumbek Kwanai, were also given administrative positions. The former was appointed ambassador in the country ministry of foreign affairs and the latter was given the post of director general of Regional Development Corporation (RDC). The President of the High Executive Council, Justice Abel Alier invited Professor Arop Yor Ayiik, from the University of Khartoum, to come and establish the information ministry. Professor Arop Yor was then appointed as the Regional Director General of the ministry of Information in order to organise the ministry from scratch.

As soon as he took over his new assignment, and with tacit approval by the regional minister of information, Mading de Garang, who was himself a former trained journalist, Professor Arop Yor, recruited some teachers from various educational institutions level and appointed them directors general to administer the new information ministry. Some of these appointed teachers were: Elliaba James Surrur, Richard Mambia, Bullen Alier Butic, Lawrence Modi Tombe, Bullen Maliok and others. After their appointment these directors managed the Regional ministry administration effectively and efficiently. These officials also became alternate directors of the ministry during the course of the ten years period. The author was one of the teachers, who was recruited and appointed to edit the ministry’s newsletter.

After his appointment, the Director General of the regional ministry of information and culture, thereafter recruited graduates from various universities and higher education institutions and appointed them employees in the new regional information ministry. Some of these students were immediately sent abroad on courses at journalism institutions through the scholarships offered by the Federal Republic of Republic and the German Democratic Republic. Among them were; Peter Gwang Kich, Benjamin Matayo Warile, Atem Yaak Atem, George Garang Deng and the author. On their return from courses abroad, these journalists were appointed editors of the government owned newspapers: the Nile Mirror weekly Newspaper, South Sudan Magazine and Youth and sports Magazine.

This author, on completion of his journalism course, from the German Democratic Republic, where he studied socialist journalism, at the International Institute of Journalism in East Berlin (1972-1974) was, on arrival, appointed chief editor of the government owned Nile Mirror Newspaper; a difficult job for a newly trained journalist with no previous sufficient practical work experience!  However, after working in the regional ministry at different departments for ten years, the author was also offered Foreign and Commonwealth scholarship where he graduated with Masters of Arts Degree in international journalism at the City University of London (1984-1986). Back home, the author was appointed once again as Editor of another government owned English language Weekly Newspaper ‘’The Heritage’’.

When the Heritage Weekly was closed down by the Khartoum Islamic Regime, the author was transferred on secondment to the Sudan Council of Churches (SCC) where he was appointed Director of communications and advocacy. As the Director of Communications and advocacy at the SCC head office in Khartoum, the author was sent several times on peace missions at home and abroad. Apparently, in recognition of his journalistic performance, which earned him several arrests by the Islamic authorities in Khartoum, he was twice invited as visiting fellow at the City University of London (1994 and 2001). He is now a media consultant.

Two other graduates: Jacob Jeiel Akol from London School of journalism and a former editor of the defunct Grass Curtain newsletter and George Garang Deng from University of Khartoum were appointed by the ministry of information: the former as programme Director of Radio Juba and the latter at the ministry headquarters where he also became alternate editor of Radio Juba and the Nile Mirror Newspaper. The two journalists were later sent on journalism training course at the BBC and the Deutsch Welle Radio stations, respectively.

After his return from the BBC, Jacob Akol laid down the nucleus of the future South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC). Mr Jacob Jeiel Akol later joined the Khartoum based Sudanow Magazine as a senior editor. On leaving Sudanow and in recognition apparently, of his journalistic performance, Jacob Akol was appointed as Director for communications and advocacy by the World Vision International; a position he held for many years and which took him to various parts of the world. After leaving the World Vision International, Mr Jacob Akol was appointed by the BBC to edit ‘’Focus on Africa’’ programme. In recognition of his journalistic excellence, Jacob Akol was admitted at University of Leads, where he graduated with a degree of Masters of Science in Communications policies and Media studies. With huge journalism of skills behind him, Jacob Akol is currently the chief editor of the most widely read website: Gurtong Peace Trust.

Another University graduate, Mr Atem Yaak Atem was, soon after his appointment, sent on journalism course to West Berlin, where he attended media studies at the International Institute of journalism. Back home, Atem Yaak Atem was appointed editor of another government’s owned paper ‘’’South Sudan Magazine’’. Mr Atem Yaak Atem was later given scholarship at University of Cardiff in UK, where obtained Masters of Science Degree in Communications policies and media studies. When the war broke out in 1983, Atem Yaak Atem joined the SPLM/SPLA as editor and manager of Radio SPLA. After the descent of peace in 2005, Atem Yaak Atem went on self-imposed exile in Australia where he continued practicing his profession.

When South Sudan became an independent state in 2011, and apparently in recognition of his previous role as Manager of Radio SPLA, Mr Atem Yaak Atem was appointed deputy minister of information. He was later removed from his post during the 2013 famous July government reshuffle and his currently a publisher in Australia. Late Sirr Anai Kelueljang, another trained journalist from London School of journalism, was also appointed as Editor of Youth and Sports Magazine. Sirr Anai Kelueljang was later given Foreign and Commonwealth Scholarship at City University of London where he earned his MA Degree in periodical journalism.

Mr Mustafa Kuol Biong Mijak another experienced radio journalist from Sudan Broadcasting Corporation, was transferred to Juba and directed to operate an out dated FM medium wavelength radio station, previously owned and used by Sudan Army stationed in Juba. This was the beginning for South Sudan to have a radio station that began to broadcast news about the regional government activities. Mr Mustafa Kuol Biong was later sent to the BBC to study Radio management skills. He is now a freelance journalist.

When the Comprehensive Peace Agreement was signed in 2005, which ushered in the establishment of government of Southern Sudan, it was expected that, the new authorities who took over the ministry of information and broadcasting could have asked former trained journalists, wherever they were, to give them technical advice on the operations and management of the media in the new country. However, it would appear that, the successive information ministers did not learn from the experience of the defunct regional government (1972-1982).

As the result of lack of trained journalists from academic institutions, most of the newspapers, in the young republic, are currently being published and managed by those who have learned journalism profession on the job training or what is called in Arabic Language through ‘’jerbandia’’; that is to say, peddling through on job training until some practical skills are acquired without slight knowledge about the theories of mass communications policies and ethics of journalism profession in general which are very useful for the practice of media men and women in their assignment.

The question which begs an answer is that, if learning on the job was the best mode of becoming a journalist; universities and colleges that teach journalism worldwide would have been closed down. For God sake, why would one study at an academic institution for many years, when a person could just learn the key to journalism on job training? Presently, due to lack of trained journalists at academic institutions; newspapers, in Juba are published by inexperienced non-professionals, the end result is that, newspapers, do not have, for instance, editorial on the lead item on the front page and more importantly no letters to the editor where citizens could discuss their social problems with the newspaper editors which is very fundamental in newspapers industry. Worst still, materials that are published daily by the newspapers, are not well edited, let alone writing stories in coherent sound language; a move which make our newspapers laughing stocks to those who come from developed countries were newspapers editors and reporters have command of languages.

Regrettably, a poor news consumer, in Juba City today, can just buy a newspaper and on discovering that, what was written there, was what he had already read from the social media, he would just throw it away and swallowed the anger for having just bought second hand information. In effort to improve the standard of press men and press women, there is a dire need for the training of journalists in South Sudan, as discuss below.

THE IMPORTANCE FOR THE TRAINING OF JOURNALISTS IN SOUTH SUDAN

Journalists or pressmen and women do have varied backgrounds and form of training. Generally speaking, journalism profession is becoming more and more technical and as such; it demands more training than formerly. For many years the art of reporting current events in a lively fashion was primarily the quality required of a good journalist. It was generally considered that, literary talent was innate; that it developed naturally; hence could not be acquired in the classroom. That theory led to a saying that journalists are born and not made. Today this statement appears to have been an exaggeration if not a myth.

In any case and although writing talent is still indispensable, it has been accepted that, it must go hand in hand with wide ranging intellect or expertise in specific fields but preferably with both. The reason is simple. The average readers’ level of knowledge and appetite for information has increased. As a result of this change, people expect their newspapers to inform them adequately on all aspects of human activities. Consequently the editorial team must include specialists in the main branches of humanities and social sciences, who may be capable of explaining the events being covered in a clear language to their readers; currents developments in politics, economics, social sciences, and arts, just to mention but a few.

Also in the past, journalists did not need long boring periods of study. It was thought that what a reporter needed was just a nose for news, a note book, a pen and ambition. Indeed, many important journalists had started, in exactly that way. Today the situation has changed dramatically and the approach to the practice of journalism has become complex. Advisably the-would-be journalists are expected to have a high standard of classroom qualifications before they can take up jobs in the first place. Specifically, aspiring journalists must follow courses of study and training laid down by academic bodies responsible for the training of journalists.

In Britain for instance, the training of journalists is the responsibility of the National Council for the Training of Journalists. Essentially modern day journalist must not only follow up a course of study, but must pass the examinations in the art, before he can be sure of getting a job. Though there are two post graduate courses in journalism (Cardiff and City University of London) more graduates are entering the journalism profession at other universities. As the training schemes become more formalised and specialise, chances for young men and women who dislike schools to get jobs in journalism are, unlike the past, becoming slim. Other countries, like the United States of America, where large youngsters go on from schools to colleges, there are university courses in journalism. And indeed, it can be stated that, the best jobs in journalism profession, in the United States and other developed countries, go to graduates.

Apart from getting educational qualification, personal characteristics of a person wishing to become a journalist would need to develop the kind of personality which would enable him to meet, talk with ease and gain the confidence of all sorts of people with varied background. Aspirant journalists should therefore be required to develop opinion on political issues, both practical and theoretical work. They should increase their knowledge on the ability to understand the views of others and to present them in a fairly coherent manner, regardless of whether one happens to agree or disagree with those opinions. That is the main reason why the background of journalists must be one of a solid general culture completed, in most cases, by specialisation in a particular area.

As acquired cultural background and professional specialisation differ from country to country, the schemes for the training of journalists are bound to differ. There is a general impression that the average level of knowledge among aspiring journalists is going up from one generation to the other; though this may be due to many factors which have no bearing on the requirement of journalism profession as such. Due to the change in technology and sciences, the idea of a copy boy or self-trained persons who become reporters is increasingly becoming a rare sight in the newsrooms in the developed countries. Furthermore, as progress in science and technology takes grip of the world, self- taught persons becoming reporters or journalist will become rare as the old guards disappear little by little.

Another important argument in favour for the training journalists by the government has to do with the fact that the government trained judges and yet they remain independent in their practice. In the same vein, journalists should be trained by the government and still remain independent in the practice of their profession like the judges.

In concluding this part of the article, it is the opinion of this author that, the best way to avoid abuse of journalism profession in the young republic, it will be advisable for the government to take the training of journalists very seriously, on the top of its priorities. Because training of young men and women, should not be taken as detrimental to its policies. Rather training responsible journalists, with modern journalistic skills, even if they may not work in the government own news media, is a must. The predictable answer will be that there are no sufficient funds available.

Even assuming that, there are no sufficient funds to train journalists, it would be even advisable and urgent for the concerned authorities in ministry of information and broadcasting to ask some well-wishers or foreign embassies to offer scholarships for the training of journalists, as it was done by the former regional ministry of information as discussed earlier. Importantly trained journalists from media academies will know what is important for the public to know and what is often refer to as information prejudicial to the establishment; or what is loosely called the censorship of the press.

Finally, parliament should amend the media laws now enforce to include clauses that hold accountable media publishers (Editors). The reason is that they are well versed about the law of the land. More importantly, they are concerned about their business’s interest. Rather than hold responsible, the poor untrained reporters who just go about their assignment collecting, in the process, any information they come across and sell it to the news organisers, regardless to whether that material is prejudicial to state law of the land or not. Urgent enactment of the national secret security and information acts and the amendment of the media laws will, in the opinion of this author, hopefully bring to a halt, the abused of journalism profession in South Sudan (more 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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