Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Is peace journalism possible in South Sudan?
(Juba, South Sudan)-Peace journalism is not generally practiced in South Sudan, although there are many good reasons why, according to participants in our peace journalism workshop at the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS).

This workshop, and one next week, is sponsored by AMDISS, USAID/VISTAS, and the Center for Global Peace Journalism at Park University.

Traditional media practices here are most notably characterized by a lack of balance—by stories presenting only one point of view, or quotes from only one official source or “side” to the story. As one journalist said, “The media here take sides.” Often, this single source is a government or military spokesman, or apartisan political source. Lack of balance is also reflected in ethnic reporting that, according to the radio journalists, presents the viewpoint from only one ethnic group (or a single viewpoint seen as representing an entire ethnic group).

This style of reporting has a corrosive impact on society. A Sudd Institute report comments, “Such (unbalanced) stances have negatively affected the objectivity of the reporting and weakened the media’s role as a vital instrument for democracy, justice, and accountability.” (

Peace journalism, as introduced in day one of our Juba workshop today, seeks balanced stories with multiple perspectives and sources while rejecting one-sided, subjective “us vs. them” reporting as well as official propaganda.

South Sudanese news reports are one sided, the journalists said, in large part because of fear and intimidation from the government. Six journalists were killed here last year, making South Sudan one of the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Freedom House’s report on South Sudanese media observes “widespread (government) intimidation and self-censorship on sensitive topics,” while the Sudd report cites a recent “crackdown on media…resulting in the closure of two English Language publications by the National Security.”

The journalists here concurred with these reports. One reporter stated, “The problem is, they (the government) can come for you” if your stories shed negative light on the wrong officials. Another commented on the differences between being arrested here and in America, noting that in South Sudan, arrested journalists have no idea if/when they’ll go on trial, or if there will even be a trial, let alone when/if they might get out of prison. “In jail, I can’t take care of my family,” the journalist noted.

It is against these odds that South Sudanese journalists do their jobs every day as best they can, understanding that any misstep can have disastrous consequences.

Under these circumstances, what can peace journalism offer these reporters? Even if the restrictive media environment persists, peace journalism, with its emphasis on journalism as a tool for reconciliation, may be seen positively (or at least non-threateningly) by authorities who also want society to heal. Indeed, reconciliation journalism is the emphasis of our workshop. Tomorrow, our journalists will be out in the field seeking out and reporting reconciliation-themed stories.

As sophisticated as our workshop discussion was today, my expectations are high for their stories tomorrow. Stay tuned.​

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