Fifth Anniversary Of SBS Dinka Service: An Assessment

"The real world is not black and white only; there are many other colours and their shades besides. And they matter, tin god can wake up one cloudy morning and declare shutting down the programme"

 By Atem Yaak Atem*

With 300 languages spoken by its population, Australia is the second most culturally diverse country in the world after Papua New Guinea. This fact has resulted in the adoption of multiculturalism as a policy to accommodate diversity and harmony in society.
According to the 2016 census, there are 300 languages spoken in Australian homes. Among these are English, Mandarin, Cantonese Vietnamese, Aramaic (the language that Jesus spoke), Acholi, Bari, Dinka, Twi (a major Ghanaian language, which should not be confused with one of the Dinka dialects spelled in the same way), Amharic, Collo, and so on.
Established in 1978, SBS or Special Broadcasting Service, is an independent media organisation. Its charter clearly spells out the broadcaster’s function in the following:
To provide multilingual and multicultural radio, television and digital media services that inform, educate and entertain all Australians and, in doing so, reflect Australian multicultural society.
The fact that SBS Dinka service now extends programmes to other speakers of that language outside Australia should be welcomed. Media outlets operated inside South Sudan, with the exception of the government’s owned South Sudan Television, are not accessible to the South Sudanese living outside their country of birth.
The few that can be accessed via internet are beyond the reach of many, especially among members of the older generation, as most of them do not understand or do not know how to use the new technology. Most of youths have little interest to follow events taking place where some of them or their parents were born. Social media and its contents are their favourite forums of choice.
With the exception of Gurtong website and Radio Tamzuj, much of the contents generated outside the country and distributed digitally is either openly partisan or professionally inadequate to be impartial and objective. Use of mangled and unconventional English- mostly by politicians in their unprofessional press releases and articles- which is becoming common, is putting off most readers.
Guided by the broadcaster’s policy of independence and professionalism, five years ago this week (a period that is contiguous with the duration of the armed conflict in South Sudan), SBS Dinka service stepped in, coincidentally, to fill the void that only other foreign broadcasters such as the BBC and Aljazeera (one highly doubts whether the Voice of America is now impartial, especially with its introduction of “Focus on South Sudan” programme) have been filling and continue to do.
Voice of America or VOA, used to be one of reliable sources of information on Africa. However, in recent times that traditional impartiality is now under cloud, especially after the introduction of “South Sudan in Focus”, whose South Sudanese presenter’s neutrality is in question.
SBS’s independence has enabled its Dinka service to interview all members of South Sudan’s political forces such as government representatives, spokespersons for the various opposition groups, armed or otherwise, and other actors, who are not affiliated to any political grouping.
As it is to be expected not everyone has been happy with the role and contents of the SBS Dinka programme. Complaints have been raised against the programme and its presenter for different reasons. Some listeners object to the idea that personalities opposed to the government of South Sudan are “given a voice”.
On the other hand, some members of the opposition think the government, which controls state funded media outlets such as television and radio should be denied an opportunity- its members-  to give their version, arguing that the government does not allow consenting voices to be heard over the state media, and they should be paid in their own coin.
These opposing positions can be summed up in the dictum of the former US president, George W. Bush: you are either with us or you are with the terrorists. This is very unfortunate. The real world is not black and white only; there are many other colours and their shades besides. And they matter, too.
The good news, though, is that no tin god can wake up one cloudy morning and declare shutting down the programme. That power lies with the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), which in turn is accountable to the Australian Federal Parliament. And that action can be taken, when the programme and its producers/presenters are found to have violated the broadcaster’s code of conduct.
In this part of the world, it is not easy for one to achieve one’s desires with a fiat; institutions of governance are intentionally made to be more powerful than the individuals who run them, while the process of undoing things can be frustratingly very long and complicated.
With the success of the SBS Dinka to reach as many listeners as possible and to present them with groups of actors and their versions of the events taking place inside South Sudan, one only wishes that this service is extended to listeners of some of the languages widely spoken by South Sudanese such as Nuer, Zande, Collo, Bari (with various dialects such as Kakwa, Kuku, Pojulu and so on) and Juba Arabic.
*Atem Yaak Atem is South Sudanese journalist with experience in both broadcast and print media for more than four decades.
Posted in: Opinions
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