“That’s why we’re journalists”

“That’s why we’re journalists”

Juba Monitor reporter Opio Jackson whispers to me, “I feel traumatized when I interview people like this.”

Beside us, Albino Ladu sits in a wheelchair, staring straight forward. Beige cloth wraps the stumps of his legs, where they were amputated after he stepped on a landmine. He’s telling us how prosthetic legs helped him regain his life.

We’re visiting a physical rehabilitation centre in Juba, South Sudan, for a feature story on support for people with disabilities.

It’s the first time I’ve gone on assignment with one of the reporters I’ll be working with over the next year as a media trainer for Journalists for Human Rights (JHR).

This type of training is also a first for the Juba Monitor, a daily newspaper with ambitious and talented reporters anxious to learn new ways of covering human rights abuses in their country.

Carolyn_workshop_June_16_2016b

Carolyn facilitating a workshop with journalists in Juba, South Sudan.

My first day, I worried about fitting in. Would they value the training we offer? Could I help despite the many difficulties journalists face?

Reporting in South Sudan is a challenge.

Unpaved roads with deep crevices slow travel between interviews. Government workers sometimes demand official letters before speaking to reporters – or they refuse entirely, saying it’s not their job to deal with the media. Newspapers publishing articles or opinions on contentious issues have been forced closed for a day, sometimes permanently. Reporters investigating controversial stories have been hauled into national security and told to forget their research or face consequences.

I asked the reporters why, despite that, they continue to do the job.

“I want to bring about a positive change,” one said.

“The desire to see people’s issues addressed, most especially those who cannot be heard,” added another.

That first day, I sat in the morning news meeting as journalists and editors scoured the newspaper for errors. They engaged in deep debates about coverage choices and how stories could be pushed forward.

A few weeks later, talk turned to the importance of including voices of those affected by the news – even when their stories are hard to hear. People like Albino Ladu.

After interviewing him, Opio Jackson and I walked back toward the neighbourhood packed with government ministries, where we’d pick a local bus toward the newsroom. We trudged along dusty streets lined with stands selling phone credit and fruit, and past market stalls with button-up shirts and power cords dangling from their walls.

Every person here has a story, we said. Their lives are changed by political decisions. They have a right to access affordable food and clean water. They have a right to live in peace.

“That’s why we’re journalists,” he told me.

 

–  Carolyn Thompson, JHR Trainer, South Sudan

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