SSTV and other Media houses need to ‘decentralize’ coverage to rural areas on the 9th July!

By: Deng Riek Khoryoam, South Sudan

June 29, 2011 (SSNA) — As South Sudan anxiously but also patiently awaits its full independence on the 9th July, 2011, certain things ought to be done well to make that memorable day smooth and successful. This July 9th date, which was on the lips of many Southerners thousands of years ago and which many thought was too far away, if not unforeseeable, is now at the corner. It’s finally here! A referendum on self determination was organized and conducted earlier this year and the people went to the voting booths to decide their future destiny. They spoke loud and clear through their ballot papers, which is the reason why there is July 9th now, and – good enough, there was no disenfranchisement!

The countdown to the July 9th is fast approaching and with so many things not yet in place. The work in and around Dr. John Garang Mausoleum, which they say will host the main celebrants, dignitaries and other distinguished invited guests isn’t yet finished. Some beautification programmes as well as tree plantings are not yet done. Also, the refurbishment of the main stadium where sports activities are to be held in is not yet over. A lot of work isn’t yet finished and we remain with only this week to get the unfinished tasks done or else the day reaches before we are done with these things, if we are not fast enough. With all these mentioned the question that begs an honest answer is: why didn’t the government or the concerned institutions, charged with the task of getting all these things done as part and parcel of the preparation, start since January or perhaps in the early February but only waited till late March or April? An answer or explanation is needed here.

The role of media in a war ravaged country like South Sudan is obscure, unclear and thus needs clear definition or understanding. Some of us would assume that the role media should play in South Sudan is not limited to feeding people with somewhat reliable information collected from somewhat credible sources. It should be assumed that its role is to inform the people about what happens on a daily basis and what they should know about their government. The decisions and policies that the government has to make on their behalf – they (people) need to know – that’s all it takes to be an informed citizen. The media should be expected to play a pivotal role, the role of a middleman; being a link between the government and the ordinary citizens, it should serve people irrespective of proximity, social class and or distance, whatsoever.

But that is not the case for the media here in South Sudan. The media doesn’t or hasn’t been covering events taking place in rural areas but concentrates its reporting and coverage in towns. This is a combination of both professional and urban biases. But most importantly, it’s urban bias at its best! As the July 9th independence day celebration approaches, Media should ‘decentralize’ and cover or report live events in the rural areas because they also deserve that right to be heard and seen by others in the other parts of the world.

The government of Southern Sudan has decentralized this celebration so that everyone can celebrate whether under the tree or wherever – which is a good thing the government has done. I know media will not do exactly that—–they will just send reporters to Bor, Malakal, Bentiu, Torit, Yambio, Kuajok, Wau, Rumbek, Aweil and etc but will not go deep into the rural areas or counties. The media should have followed the same footstep taken by the government with regards to the July 9th celebrations or even far beyond that.

We all know that 80 percent of South Sudan’s population live in the rural areas far from towns where basic necessities are available and can be found. Basic commodities are scarce in the rural areas. It could be said or assumed that it’s the reason why SSTV and other media houses don’t like to go to rural areas to cover/report events at the local levels and get to know how people live in their dwelling places. It can be very motivating as well as encouraging if the media gets to the people on ground so that to get their side of the story on all aspects of life. They say “give a person a forum to meet his/her fundamental need and you become friends forever; deny that person a chance to do so, and you part ways the soonest”. True to this adage, it’s a fundamental need!!

As the government of Southern Sudan decentralised this important day, the media hasn’t decentralised it in order to follow the same bold step taken by the government. The SSTV should send reporters and cameramen to all 10 states of Southern Sudan and 79 counties for the purpose of the July 9th day. They should not be reporting and covering the event only here in Juba and other towns of the South, they need to go out of thy comfort zones to the rural areas for the purpose of that day. But the biggest problem with the SSTV is that five or six years down the line, the administration or the management hasn’t done anything to improve its shape and change its face.

The way those presenters always present news to the vast audience of the entire South Sudan is disinteresting and awful; and therefore, leaves a lot to be desired of them. They are always not on time, sometimes bringing news 20 or 30 minutes later, which isn’t good! And when it’s time for the news, there is no translation from Arabic to English during English news time and from English to Arabic when it’s Arabic news time, for those who may prefer to speak in any of the two mentioned official languages. Who to blame for this? It’s the TV because it fails to provide this as part and parcel of its programme. Those who I always see presenting news have their own Bantu way of reading news items or pronouncing words, which doesn’t sound too well. The accent sounds like that of Buganda or other Bantu groups and is not good; it sends off people like me to bed for deep sleep, if there is no any other TV channels available. To make matters worse, this is said to be the only government owned TV. Therefore, it can be assumed that it’s a public institution like any other government institutions.

What is it this author is saying? The point here is pretty much simple and clear: I would want to see media going to the counties to cover and report the 9th July live through the mediums of it (media) such as: TV, newspaper’s reporters, Radio reporters and etc. I know Miraya FM always strives to do the best it could to go to the rural/remote areas to cover events and report them. I challenge other media houses to follow suit without failure. The ministry of information and broadcasting in the government of South Sudan under H.E. the minister, Hon. Dr. Marial Benjamin needs to do something urgently to save us from shame as Southerners. Institutional strengthening would do well for this public institution – they need to improve it for the better!

There is too much commercialisation in SSTV, which is okay if they use that to buy more video cameras and other media equipments. But now this is a different story altogether. They neither use that money to buy equipments such as cameras nor improve the shape of it. Those presenters and reporters need to undergo serious fresh training in the neighbourhood if they are to do a good job as expected. The way they present news tells us that they are not professional journalists – or what I would correctly call or refer to as ‘quack journalists’. Kenya is a good example where our half-baked TV journalists could borrow leaf from if they are serious on learning new things. Learning never stops, it only stops the movement you leave this world.

Honestly speaking, SSTV has been wasting public money for no good reason. There are those within the administration whose aim is to serve their big bellies at the expense of the nation, this should be corrected now. We need to start seeing results after July 9th. You cannot imagine that that TV station receives a chunk of money from the government directly. The media should not confine itself within the towns; it should serve all without distinction. We should not like talking about the importance of decentralisation or need for federalism when we don’t decentralise small things like the media. Let it be media without borders! Let it also be reporters without borders!

The author lives in South Sudan, he could be reached for comments at [email protected]

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