26 May 2020


Don’t Try This At Home South Sudanese Journalists

"When a journalist interrupted him with 'are you going to resign?' his acknowledged buddy, Donald Trump, batted in: 'That’s a rude question! He is going nowhere!'”

By Jacob J Akol

“Get your ass back here”, screamed a headline in a British national publication. The supposed advice was to the beleaguered British Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, to get back home as quickly as possible to face the storm his recent advice to the Queen to prorogue parliament has caused. The action was unanimously overruled yesterday as “unlawful, null and void” by 11 Supreme Court Judges.

The media hacks were there as soon as he woke up in New York: “Did you lie to the Queen Prime Minister?” “Did you mislead the Queen?” “Did you apologise to the Queen?” “Will you resign Prime Minister?” “When are you going home Prime Minister?”

It is none of their business if he stayed or not to speak at the United Nations. To them, he was already a disgrace to have been overruled by the Supreme Court and having possibly lied to the Queen.

The Prime Minister was visibley rattled, not only by the bad news from home but the media vultures tearing him apart as if he were already dead. He put on a brave face: “I, I, respect the judgement of the court, of course. But I don’t agree with their judgement. I, I…”

When a journalist interrupted him with “are you going to resign”, his acknowledged buddy, Donald Trump, batted in: “That’s a rude question! He is going nowhere!”

Now we understand he is on his way to UK and likely to land any time today. No doubt the media hacks are following his plotted route over North Atlantic, as if they expect him to turn back to the safety of America or divert to North Pole or Moscow.

They will be waiting for him, either at the main Heathrow Airport or the small private airport next to it. Dozens of them will be waiting at wherever he lands, with the same revitalised questions.

If he heads to 10 Downing Street, his official home, or straight to Parliament - which has never been "legally closed" since his attempt was illegal anyway - dozens more journalists will be waiting for him with revised questions, fed from negative comments from his party colleagues and opposition party leaders.

If he is brave enough to proceed straight to Parliament, which opened for business at 11.30 this morning, he will no doubt be met with shouts for him to “Resign! Resign!”

He will most likely stick to the line that he is still working for an agreed exit from EU, failing that he will still leave without a deal, regardless of the fact that line of exit has already been legally closed to him by an act of the Parliament.

He will call for immediate elections; but that, too, is being denied to him by the parliament until he has written to EU requesting an extension to the UK exit, something he had sworn never to do, preparing to be found “dead in the ditch”rather than write for an extension beyond October 31.

That’s the“Catch 22” for Boris Johnson as far as the opposition is concern: If he wants elections as he is now demanding, all he has to do is write to the EU requesting delay for UK exit by October 31 as he has sworn to do.

But, if he writes that letter of extension, his Brexit supporters will desert him like a sinking ship for the newly formed Brexit Party; Nigel Farage knows that. Boris Johnson knows that. The Official Opposition Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbin, knows that.

So, what is the Prime Minister to do? Fall on his own sword, as it were, and resign, or, in his own words, be found “dead in the ditch”? The choice is his or, rather, there is no much choice left to him, really.

When the Parliament opened this morning, his Attorney, who stood in for the absent Prime Minister, mowed down the House with his thundering voice, calling the Opposition “The cowards sitting on the opposite benches will not face the people in an election! They would rather sit in this dead parliament…”etcetera, etcetera.

The media never had it so good. It is their time to laugh at power, lawfully of course, politicians caught at their own sneaky games. And there is nothing they can do about it to silent the media vultures because they are the Fourth Estate of Liberal Democracy, protected by the constitution.

I remember when I returned to Juba from UK in 1976, as a fully trained broadcast journalist. I was thrown at the deep end of practical journalism and I had my fill of titles: One of the two deputies to the Station Manager of Radio Juba, Head of English Language Service and actually the jack of all trades: Producer, Reporter, Presenter, Editor, etcetera, etcetera.

What went on the English Language programme was all left to me. I fell like the king of independent voices and freedom of the press and expression until…?

Until I strayed into “sensitive” areas, such as interviewing then so called“members of the opposition”, and these included Gen. Joseph Lagu and then Member of Parliament Victoria Yar Arol.

When I had a period in Khartoum as Regional Editor for Sudanow Monthly Magazine, TV Program Producer for Sudan TV as well as stringer for a couple of British media, including the BBC, I was sending my telex reports (yes, something called telex kiddies!), from Sudan News Agency (SUNA) Centre.

One day the Director of SUNA stopped me in the middle of telexing and called me to his office: “I thought we should wait for more details on that story?” he asked quite menacingly. I told him I got enough details already, thank you.

I took him to either mean we had to wait for the official ‘okay’ from the National Security or, perhaps, he did not want the competition to get ahead of him, for I knew he was stringing for a couple of Western Media News agencies to earn an extra dollar, just like me.

“In that case”, he announced, “go elsewhere to file your reports”.

Luckily for me, the guys in General Post Office either didn’t know or cared less about the contents of my reports and they typed them off for the duration of my stay in Khartoum. I paid them well for the service.

When I later proceeded for a higher degree, backed by many years of experience in practical journalism, and studied in details News Theories and Media Ethics, I realized that we Western-trained African journalists need a big orientation in order to be both relevant to and effective for the society we seek to serve.

*Jacob J Akol is Editor of Gurtong Media.


Posted in: Home, Opinions
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27/09/2019, 9:30 AM
 - Posted by Jacob Akol
This is being discussed on my facebook wall: Joseph D Garang asked about a caution I made under: 'Do Not Try This At Home South Sudanese Journalists': "Wouldn't that encourage/embolden leaders/autocrats if journalists resigned themselves to the fear of asking tough, challenging investigative questions? And could we as the country afford being timid/frightened for eternity?"

My expanded answer: Who said you shouldn't ask tough questions Joseph D Garang? It is the manner you ask tough questions that matters. But the central question we South Sudanese journalists should be asking ourselves is the relevance of our journalism to the daily lives of the society and the country we seek or claim to serve. Being loyal to your country is not necessarily being loyal to the government of the day. But are we , South Sudanese journalists, giving enough platform-time-and space to important voices that are often ignored in preference to news or opinions of town-based elites? What of women, youths, chiefs, village elders and farmers, nurses, medical doctors etc? What really matters more to South Sudan at the moment other than search for voices that unite us in our diversity? This is the area I think our journalism in South Sudan should concentrate on at this stage of development. It all needs forum discussions by editors because it is very important and much involved.

If you start with the kind of combative journalism practiced in the West, you simply close doors without having the chance to get to the root of the matter through polite enquiry. Investigative journalism is a slightly different matter. It requires one getting his or her hands on evidence, such as documents attesting to corruption. In a country where laws and courts do not adequately protect journalists, the investigating journalist and the editor must weigh their options very carefully before publishing, for their publication may lead to libel suits, jail, deregistration of their publication or exile with little reaction of support or nothing at all from the society you thought you were serving. If anything, you are made to look like "a foreign agent bent on changing a democratically n elected government by undemocratic means!" How often have you heard that in South Sudan? Certain African media like that of Kenya have to some extent matured enough with substencial readership, viewers and listeners, and thus getting support from a much larger population based.
27/09/2019, 9:35 AM
 - Posted by Jacob Akol
When the property of Standard Newspaper was destroyed some years back by some high-up individual who did not like what was published about him and a minister boasted that "if you step on the tail of a snake it will bite you", there were huge public demonstrations in the streets of Nairobi shouting: "Kill the Snake! Kill the Snake!" That means that you, has a media, has become relevant to the society you serve and therefore be able to dare even more powers that be. We in South Sudan have a long way to go.
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