August 23, 2014 (SSNA) — Our 2011 Constitution states that “every person has the right to freedom of expression”, and that “every south Sudanese citizen or permanent resident . . . has the right of access to any information held by the State…
The Constitution acknowledges that free communication is vital for a “democratic society based on openness, justice, human dignity, equality and freedom”.
But our media legislation speaks a very different language, i.e., the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) and the Broadcasting Services Act (BSA). Media laws in this country are an expression of the great fear those in authority have of a well-informed people who do not swallow party propaganda, but answer back on the basis of facts.
The Constitution and the media laws contradict each other in spirit and letter. Why are the laws not adjusted to the Constitution?
Since “broadcasting and other electronic media of communication have freedom of establishment, subject only to State licensing procedures”, why are south Sudanese citizens, who are also voters and taxpayers, denied the freedom to establish their own citizens’ radios (also called community radios)?
Why are our leaders afraid of a free flow of information in our country? Why do they shake in their boots when confronted with free citizens asking their own questions?
The powerful themselves do not want to know all that much. They prefer to forget. They do not want to know that spending money that did not exist was the beginning of our economic decline. They do not want to know that even today there are behind the death of our great JOURNALIST Isaiah Abraham still squatting in exactly the same kind of shacks government wanted to do away with in 2013.
They do not want to know that you cannot develop trade relations without respect for the rule of law. They prefer to play the blaming game. It is so much easier, and intellectually very lazy, to blame the “Western powers” (no innocent angels, true).
Decision-makers work on the basis of accurate information, facts and figures. You cannot spend money you have not got, you must know the economy. But if you gag the media, deny them access to information, threaten journalists with arrest and imprisonment, the very sources providing you with that information, you are likely to be a “blind guide”, a misinformed bungler.
Intellectually sharp politicians should welcome critical voices, forcing them to delve more deeply into political options and calculate the long-term effects. These critical voices they find in quality media (not tabloids), but also in encounters with observant citizens who see things with open eyes: community radios could be such a source of “grassroots” information.
Too many of our representatives in Parliament and government see in the media only as adversaries. They cannot follow an argument presented by a well-informed economist in a newspaper column. All they know is their party line and ideology which they swallowed 9 years ago.
A good leader is not afraid of the truth; he guards against self-deception and narrow self-interest. He cares even about people who are not potential voters; the fact that they suffer is enough for him to worry about them, e.g. south Sudanese in East Africa threatened with eviction, or fellow citizens overseas who cannot come home even to bury their parents because as “illegals” they would lose everything.
Prospective leaders promise their voters that they will create jobs for them, but have absolutely no idea how to do that in a devastated economy.
They may know how to knock out a rival, but in an argument about the best economic policy for creating wealth and work for all they have little to say. They are not interested in a “reading culture” that would give them competence and judgment. Newspapers and TV programmes interest them only for the propaganda value of their own pictures appearing.
Like politicians who fear for their positions of power, so ordinary people fear for their lives. Desperate to restore their fortunes, they turn to dubious business-minded “prophets” who promise them economic miracles.
They no longer seek rational answers to our malaise, but find relief in “faith”, paying lots of money for comforting illusions. It is not genuine faith whose light is also seen by reason, but the spiritual sugar-coating for our pilfering “get-rich-quick” culture.
If you want to survive you must be prepared for change. “Life is change, and to have lived is to have changed very often.” Genuine prophets who warned kings and governors that their rule was facing ruin lived dangerously and died in disgrace.
When Galileo Galilei revealed that the earth was not the center of the universe, but merely a little planet in the solar system amongst a myriad of other stars, he encountered much hostility. If you tell an autocrat that he is not the center of the universe, do not expect to fare any better.
In this situation we need free media that confront us with reality.
We need intellectual challenges that force us to think and come to viable answers. We need a countrywide platform for dialogue and a local exchange of information where there is no hiding place from the real world.
That we are denied this openness and this exposure to what pains people in countrywide or local media, is a disservice to the nation.
But hopefully our journalists may eventually get a chance if only a new leadership takeover the rotten and decayed system.
The author is a student of political science living in Egypt; you can easily get Him through his Email address [email protected]