Mediaphobia in South Sudan: MPs at the crossroads of approving media laws or vengeance laws

Category: Writing aboard the Kenya Airways: A story on coming to Rwanda for the first time
Published on Thursday, 08 March 2012 04:42
Written by John Penn de Ngong, The New Sudan Vision (NSV), www.newsudanvision.com
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Juba, South Sudan - I am breaking my last silence on this Media-vs-Government violence because I have been perturbed psychologically and disturbed physically by my media comrades for being neutral when the war is now central in our midst. Since  my fighting by writing hit the block by the time no papers and websites were there to fight for me, I hit the blog. And the reason is simple: they are bibliophobes, sort of allergic to reading, especially the internet stuff. So we, the internet staff, I say we the blogophiles, hide it therein, meaning herein, online.

However, I am afraid, the 'mediaphobia', the anti-media attitudes by our government, will greatly feature in our constitution, and will definitely override the minority rights to expression such as through the blogsphere, Facebook, Twitter, and other internet-based group of socialites. And this, should it happen due to real or forged ignorance by our lawmakers, will force the dotcommers into staging an online kinda Facebook Revolution. Of course, if the Egyptian girls and boys electronically won to put the Mighty Hosni Mubaraks onto his knee, and then into the hot soup, then who won't anywhere in this global village? Let us just wait and see what the Media law will look like in the hands of the lawmakers-turned-mediaphobes.

But my blog and I loathe it. To repeat what my blog is about so as to distance myself from Julian Assange, this is what I wrote previously in my weekly weakleak post, which does not only make a part but also make a parcel of the freedom of expression. "I hate political weaklings. That is why I wrote on the intro of my blog above: 'Really, I rarely enjoy politics; but when some wannabes play poly-tricks, I would rather I were their hangman.' This statement also echoes what this weblog is about (from the Aboutleaks page): 'In South/Sudan today, our readers, our leaders and other senior citizens and their junior denizens in the aftermath of the conflict seem to be oscillating between words of war and war of words. Such leaders who lose their hearts in loose utternaces are to be crucified ’weakleakly‘ (like USA  on the in/famous Wikileaks.com) on the altar of their tongues.”

Who are the political weaklings? Anybody who claims to be a politician or a 'politeacher' but have not prepared themselves for the game. Take it or leave it from me today, mere votes do not add any iota of idea of politics. So those whose fellow villagers just stuffed their ballot boxes and sent to Juba in 2010 must struggle now to pull up their socks in accordance with today's global leadership demands. For instance, lack of preps before hitting the public roads with hot news is seen in our lawmakers' behaviour when their bodyguards (I thought those were their building guards) dragged on the floor one of our respected learned journalists of this naive nation.

On his talk show on Friday last week, I asked Mading Ngor if he, according to the one-sided investigation committee in and for the parliament, is drunk throughout, is violent in the hall, is not qualified, is a freelance journalist, does not identify himself, and the likes.... For fear of roughing his Bakhita FM Management the wrong way, and/or fuelling the fiery venom of the legislators, he did not answer my barrage of rage on air but told me at the end of the program. "I wake up before Juba wakes up, start my 'Wake up Juba' at 6AM and stop it at 8AM. I go for shower and breakfast at 9 and hit the road to the parliament at 10 (all these in the morning), and stay there till they close their session. Now where and when do I get drunk throughout?" (Quote not verbatim).

Biblically speaking, my Christianity timetable reads 'Lent'. This reminds us of the miscalculation the Roman colonial administration did in Judaea when the Holy Spirit's chaos descended on the believers. The Christians began to speak in tongues (confused language not understood by outsiders) and the authoritarian authorities were offended to the extent of accusing them of being drunk, forcing Simon Peter, the senior apostle, to react, "This is only 9 o'clock in the morning. Where do you think these Christians could get alcohol?" Rt. Hon. Speaker, are we there yet? Hon. Joy Kwaje of the Information (now media) Committee, there you are!

But Honorable MP, Madam, with your current position as our Information Committee head lawmaker, and with your former position as the boss for South Sudan Human Rights Commission, is this report of the ad hoc investigation committee on the attack on the journalist, the humiliation in the house of law that you witnessed, regretted and apologized for on Tuesday, true as you reported to the Speaker on Wednesday? "Mr. Speaker, our committee has found out that this man called Mading Ngor is not a journalist working with Bakhita Radio, but a freelance journalist. Also when we cross-checked with the Security, we found out that he does not have an ID and always fails to identify himself at the gate."

Madam Chairperson, I have a litany of questions to ask over this small quote from your committee, but only if I do not run out of space. That Mading Ngor is not a journalist working with Bakhita FM, Really? That he is a freelance journalist, so what is constitutionally and professionally wrong with me being a freelance reporter? That he has no ID (I thought you mean idea) card, so how does he earn his monthly salary from Bakhita and makes appointments with leaders such as Pagan Amum, Kenyan Prime Minister and the East Timore Prime Minister? That Mading Ngor does not accept to identify himself at the gate. If so, then how does he enter, and why has your security allowed him to attend the sessions for the last five months? That the security told your committee so; then what did Mading tell the committee? Or was your committee only to investigate the security boys, and why leave out Mading, the centre of the problem? The rest of the queries for our leaders to my readers.

In this country where we seem to be failing to identify the real drunkos and the cause thereof, it is unbecoming for those in the hall of laws to force their fellow citizens into submission so that a speck is removed from their eyes by the persons who have even a bigger log in theirs. If I had to be allowed to enter the August House with a breathalizer and test the fuming gases (breaths) from the lips and noses of all the over 300 honourables, their body guards -- building guards not spared, too -- I believe, Mading Ngor Akech Kuai will not top the list of the drunkards (drinkers being an understatement) in our parliament.

That aside, when the citizens of our baby nation get drunk with the spirit of nationalism (say freedom of expression), our parliament blatantly accuse them of having been intoxicated with the spirit of alcoholism (freedom of oppression). Now, what is the new label to give to the spirit that made our parliamentarians too drunk to make such wild decisions like accusing a competent scribe of impersonation if not forgery, banning a legally licensed reporter from executing his duties in the parliament, releasing unprocessed propaganda against him, in other words, defaming him as an uneducated freelance journalist, drunkard, and so on. By the way, the term 'drunkard' was not used by the parliament but its definition qualifies it. Simply put, a drunkard is one who is under the influence of alcohol -- and to borrow from the MP's description -- throughout! So when an honorable lawmaker justifies in public that their bodyguards were right to beat the journalist because he comes to the parliament 'drunk throughout', the time adverb 'throughout' makes me comfortable with the word 'drunkard'.

I repeat, what on earth did our lawmakers drink that day to make them rush into banning the media (I harbour the feeling that an attack on one Mading is an attack on the whole media, by the way), propagating false charges (the same charged against Jesus and his followers) against the qualified journalist who did not only study in Canada but worked there as he founded the famous newsudanvision.com website, which has also published this piece of argument. It should be noted that this is not only the very website but also the very journalist who made Aleu Ayieny Aleu lost his job of a deputy minister of interior on an SPLM ticket in Khartoum during the interim period. Correction: He did not make him lose his job, he did make him lose his mind and loose his tongue to speak out words not recommended for a constitutional post holder at a time the nation was struggling out of its colonial cocoon.

The Mading Bill

Period! The parliament was drunk with the spirit of vengeance. According to Mading, it seems to be Hon. Aleu who diverted the whole parliament session on a more sensible Media Bill into discussing 'Mading Bill'. What else, if not personal interest, was Hon. Aleu or Hon. Kom Kom's interest in forcing the legislators to discussing Mading Ngor the whole day instead of the Media? This was condemned by Mading himself during his 'Wake up Juba' breakfast show the morning after he was harassed and embarassed. "For the parliament to discuss me the whole day, while there are demanding issues on the table, is outrageous!" This also reminds me of President Robert Mugabe (of Zimbabwe)'s reaction to the brutish British Parliament. "The British parliament to discuss Mugabe for the whole week...what an idleness!"

Instead of the Media Bill, it was the Mading Bill. And what came out of the 'bill'? Banning Mading from attending 'their' parliamentary sessions, countering the story with (unresearched) propaganda that made Hon. Kwaje a stooge who was forced to switch from a sincere apologist on Tuesday to a staunch propagandist on Wednesday. Imagine the head of Information (Media) Committee reversing her apologies into accusations on an incident that should have been a problem of the in/famous in/security personnel of the Assembly (I can now excuse one reporter who misspelled it 'security personals'). If I were that parliamentary propagandist, I would give a brief comment to dispel the whole hullabaloo of the public and world media from the ir/responsibility of the top institution of our nation. "We are sorry, this is a mistake made by the few security individuals, and it will be investigated and dealt with accordingly." The 'accordingly' means according to the parliamentary rules and regulations, which do not necessarily warrant a beating to the extent of tearing one's outfit. This statement would relieve the whole house from shouldering the whole blame. This is the kind of a disclaimer that the editors simply do to harsh articles, "The views expressed herein do not necessarily reflect the policies of this newspaper or website..." The parliament should have done the same.

But why did they do not the same? Conflict of interest. Mading Ngor is the journalist who interviewed Hon. Aleu Ayieny in USA (now chairperson for Security Committee under which the rude boys fall in the NLA) by the time he was an inferior minister of interior in Khartoum. The interview, published on the New Sudan Vision website on 31st October 2007 and 1st November 2007, a diaspora-to-home media outlet for which Mading is a co-founder and editor-in-chief to date, was picked up by The Daily Monitor in Uganda. The story in which Aleu insinuated that Garang was murdered caused un/diplomatic row between Uganda and South Sudan, leading to SPLM sacking Aleu and everything of that kind. So when Aleu calls Mading a trouble maker everytime he appears in the parliament, the 10 counts of crime Mading had allegedly committed against the national assembly, that include drunkenness and stubbornness, are not limited to 'crime against the honourable member/s of parliament'.

According to the article on the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) that interviewed Mading Ngor after the beating, "This case is getting unwarranted media attention," Ngor says, given that such incidents happen all the time in South Sudan. "I remember last September the security almost murdered me for taking a picture in the assembly." Later he found that there was no official protocol banning photography in the assembly hall. Indeed, South Sudan has already developed a reputation for allowing security operatives to abuse civilians with impunity, including journalists. CPJ documented nine cases of security attacks against journalists last year; in two cases the journalists had to be hospitalized for treatment.

It is a fact now known internationally that, whereas media freedom is one of the most important ingredients of practical independence and, indeed, a litmus test for democracy, South Sudan is the world's youngest republic that has no media laws, according to the country profile on Wikipedia in reference to the arrests and closure of the newspaper last year in connection with the widely questioned wedding of the president's daughter. That is why I wonder under which laws and whose laws will the parliament apply to sue one pen-wielding Nhial Bol, the citizen of this media-outlawed country, and editor-in-chief of The Citizen, the newspaper. We, media practitioners here, are protected by international media laws and Article 19 of the Universal Human Rights Declaration on freedom of expression. I hear as they were discussing an impromptu bill on Mading Ngor, the end result was to rush in the long-stalled media bill. Watch this space for more about that next week, if at all this blog will survive that 'vengeance law' being passed into action.

The Media Bill

The Media Bill is five-years old and is not yet graduated into the Media Law! What makes it the oldest raw law (bill) in the Republic of South Sudan, if not in the whole world? I gather that it is undergoing maturity check up in between the ministries of Information, Justice and the Council of Ministers. Funny enough! By the time Mading was attacked, our lawmakers were busy on more urgent issues of building the nation. To be exact, they were deliberating on a Red Cross, Red Crescent and Red Crystal Bill, which were debated three times during the last three months' time! Well, the Red Cross is also important because we all need first aid, especially these days when we are swelling with fat like bread inflated with yeast. We need the Red Cross to rush 'second aid' to Pi/bor victims. I also need this blated first aid I call 'second aid'; Yeah, I need the rescuers when I am attacked by our in/security personnel. I need personal aid when I faint while recording the prolonged speeches of our leaders (say readers in this case) in parliament or under the hot sun at our 'Freedom Squares' around South Sudan. So the Red Cross Bill that was passed before the Mading Bill, and the Engineers Bill graduated into law the day after the Mading's (beating) Bill, needed more urgency than the Media Bill does now, but to be considered later.

Some mini-sters or legis-laters who have not or have too much enough information about the role of the media regulation laws think they are being forced to sign their arrest warrant, not knowing that it is their rest warranty in disguise. "Imagine how rampant these boys are at the moment, what if you legalize their anarchist behaviour, the so-called media bill?" wondered one army general in a private chat with other senior citizens in a conference during the days of the Nhial Bol Bill. Yes, Mading is not the first and will not be the last one to be discussed by the government. Instead of discussing the laws that will guide the individuals from mis/behaving in public, they wait until there is a 'crime' and then they discuss the 'criminal' and crucify them on the calvary of ignorance and revenge. In the recent past, there have been many Madings in the spotlight as listed in this piece of contemplation from my fellow blogger Paanluel Wel's site.

"So far, among those South Sudanese who have had the misfortune to cross paths with the authorities are Nhial Bol of the Citizen Newspaper, Dengdit Ayok of the Destiny newspaper, Dr. James Okuk who is a freelance writer and a fierce critic of the government, Ngor Garang and Manyang Mayom of Sudan Tribune, Mac Ajuei Panchol from Bor, Richard Mogga and Badru Mulumba of the New Times, Ojja William Benjamin from Eastern Equatoria State, and the latest victim, Mading Ngor of New Sudan Vision and Bakhita FM. Not only that, even South Sudan government own undersecretary, Dr. Jok Madut of the ministry of Culture and Heritage, was beaten up on the new year's eve at Wau airport just because he arrived at the same time as the president. This is only the tip of the iceberg as many low-profile media personnel who bear constant harassments and intimidations from the law enforcement agents and grumpy politicians go unreported." http://paanluelwel2011.wordpress.com/2012/02/09/frosty-relationship-between-the-new-government-of-south-sudan-and-the-national-news-media

What Paanluel Wel has exactly described above happens not only to the media workers but also to ordinary citizens, including the extraordinary ones such as H.E. Dr. Jok Madut Jok, quoted verbatim on his testimony in which he was made to regret having his flight coincided with that of our president, the man who swore him into the office: "In my free country, South Sudan, there is very little such thing as freedom. This the morning of December 31st, I arrived in Wau, hoping to celebrate the reception of the new year with my family, I had the misfortune of arriving at Wau airport on the same day that our President was also due there, coming from his Christmas holiday in Akon...

"When I got out of the airport compound and walked to the vehicle that was waiting for me, I found that my two brothers were attacked and being beaten by an SPLA unit, supposedly stationed there to secure the airport for the arrival of our President. Naturally, I walked over to see why they were being beaten and the soldiers automatically turned on me. I was brutally attacked, my arms tight by several men, a blow to the side of my head with the butt of a gun and several punches straight onto both of my eyes, no questions asked, not even any accusations of wrong doing. I was tortured properly while I had quickly shown the soldiers my identity card, demonstrating that I am a senior official in the national government, undersecretary in the Ministry of Culture, and the ID was thrown away and several men wrestled me to the ground, onto that red dust of Wau, my blue suit and all." Come back to complete this story later on this link: http://gurtong.net/ECM/Editorial/tabid/124/ID/6272/Default.aspx

As for the fairness of the parliamentarians in enacting healthy freedom laws amidst their arm-twisting duel with their controversially estranged sibling, the Media, the so-called Fourth Estate of the nation, let us wait and see. But before we waste our time waiting to see, why don't we join in the process of shaping that law? I am not convinced, just as you might not have been, that somebody who has already declared me an enemy will wish me good by enshrining for me in the national constitution a licence to criticize them. Who has a gun and does not use it against their assailants? The Politicians already see the media as their major threat, so will they deal with it objectively as a law of the future generation in that piece of one-sided legislation being pushed in at a time when the House is bracing for solidarity with their security at the expense of real democracy?

This daylight partiality is already seen in the way the honorable speaker formed an investigation committee, comprising members of parliament and the very security personnel, who investigated themselves and published the results worldwide. Mading, the victim, was dismissed and not questioned to tell his version of the story. This has made the parliament behave like the Shari'a law implementers, who declare a fatwa for the stoning of an adulteress, the execution in which the adulterer participates. This immunity by impunity should not be allowed in our new country. Our leaders should not break the hearts of the people whom they successfully liberated, and whom they are now remorsefully 'de-liberating' in their own independent country.

However, before I throw the ball to my fellow comrades in the struggle, I have my own recommendations to put across. I believe in the Nigerian artistes' (P Square) principle, "If you do me, I do you... Touch me, I touch you!" This is necessarily on a negative note. You may touch me softly, then I do it likewise. But if you do me hard, I do you harder. I absorbed this from a Kenyan friend and observed it in action by the time I was doing my internship with the UN's IRIN (Integrated Regional Information Networks) after enrolling in a journalism course for The Sudan Mirror in 2004. He told me that the secret by which they transformed some stubborn leaders is by counter-censorship. If, say, a minister proves to be giving hard time to journalists, just boycott him. If not, then attend his daily blabberings and edit them 'properly'. In this way, some obstinate diehards of the Big Man will be humbled to the extent of calling for reconciliation with the media fraternity. Of recent, have you ever heard in Kenya the likes of the First Lady slapping journalists in public any more?

Barrage of Rage from Media Comrades

Though 'photojournalists' lost their professional courage on the scene of their comrade's humiliation, chose to cower about and cow away from capturing the scene on their cameras, our writers and reporters were not quiet with this development. I thank them and join them in calling for a new dawn with the media for development. I know we have weaknesses, which should be excused like the normal shortcomings seen with other stakeholders of the new nation. I acknowledge I have weaknesses as a person, but I with my colleagues condemn here is why they are being branded as wickednesses by the holier-than-thou politicians. Now have your judgmental look at the personal takes of my comrades in the profession on this hot issue.

Tom Rhodes, CPJ’s East Africa consultant, based in Nairobi, has this to say on their organization's weblog, "The ensuing furor included apologies, a protest, an opinion column, a committee investigation, parliamentary debate, the banning of Ngor from the assembly, and finally, a parliamentary call to revive deliberations over three media bills originally drafted five years ago. While some journalists see the resurrection of those proposals as a silver lining, others -- including Ngor -- are worried that debate over the bills in this heated atmosphere may spell trouble for press freedom in the world's newest country."

"Without media laws we are like footballers playing without rules, and what happens is that anybody can blow the whistle and say these are the rules -- his rules," said Jacob Akol, chairman of the Association of Media and Development in South Sudan, which supports the laws' passage.

"Media freedom in South Sudan is fading due to persistent harrassment and intimidation against journalists. There were several incidents that happened to Journalists and are still happening in the same way. The latest case is the worst which makes the whole Government in Juba decided to protest against Madding Ngor. As a Journalist of this country, I am totally in distress because Democracy is being killed by backpain politicians. Reporting on sensitive issues, especially government failures, has become like milking a Lion in South Sudan." Joseph Oduha in a trail comment to the CPJ blog article.

"I am of the view that this incident has set the launching of the struggle between those in the halls of power and those who love freedoms, including of expression, because what was attacked was [not only] an individual, but freedom of expression as well as the bill of rights," Chief Editor Nhial Bol of the private daily Citizen, wrote in a scathing column. The editor was admonished by MPs for claiming in his op-ed, incorrectly, that they were "celebrating the beating of our colleague."

The parting shot of this article is from Columnist Zechariah Manyok, who also voiced his concerns in the Sudan Tribune recently. "What guarantee will the media have that the bill is not going to be based on the anger of the Assembly, making it a law against the media [rather] than a law meant to regulate the activities of the media?" http://www.sudantribune.com/The-crux-of-Mading-s-case-against,41554

The views expressed therein do not necessarily reflect the policies of The New Sudan Vision website but are personal views of the author, who is our columnist, a journalist, writer, poet and blogger. The article is also published with more pictures and cartons with funny captions on his weblog: www.weakleak.wordpress.com E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.