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“The courage to speak as truthfully and fearlessly as Eye Radio” – Analysis by a foreign journo

Author: Eye Radio | Published: Saturday, January 18, 2020

A bullet tears through Eye Radio brick wall during the July 2016 conflict | Credit | Ayuen Panchol/Eye Radio

A journalist who has covered Africa for years and works for an international media house has described Eye Radio’s journalists as courageous, it’s reporting more transparent, informative & its news angles as incisive.

This opinion piece is in response to an interview conducted by Eye Radio with the UK’s Ambassador to South Sudan.


Eye Radio has posted the audio of his statement here, and it is clear that they quoted him correctly: https://eyeradio.org/amb-trott-claim.

For decades, there has been a disturbing tendency for diplomats/aid workers/UN/etc in what is now South Sudan to water down criticisms upon receiving pushback from authorities. But in this case, Chris Trott takes it further by trying to blame local journalists to cover himself.

There’s a backstory to this, that surely Chris Trott, who is relatively new to South Sudan, may not be aware of. In 2016, “cantonment sites” in Juba were filled with closely scrutinized numbers of opposition soldiers, while government troops did not canton their troops properly.

Back then, like now, troop cantonment was one of the most contested aspects of creating a transitional govt. Here’s an in-depth assessment from 2016, when IO troops showed up to their sites, but government troops didn’t:

And just like back then, both government and IO forces would take journalists and others on tours of their sites, trying to show they were complying.

It’s clear that Chris Trott has only watered down his statement after receiving pushback from the government. But why did he apparently erroneously blame Eye Radio for “misunderstanding” him? Whatever reason he did, it was frankly dangerous of him to do so. Why?

Well, unlike foreign diplomats, who can drive around in armoured vehicles and hide behind their embassy walls guarded by their home nation’s militaries, the South Sudanese journalists of Eye Radio do not have protection at all. A case in point? 2016.

At that time, government forces did NOT comply with bringing their soldiers to cantonment sites, as western diplomats were largely silent about continuing violations of the peace deal. Surprise, surprise: Juba blew up in July 2016. Hundreds were killed. Hundreds more raped.

What does this have to do with Eye Radio? Much of the fighting in the Battle of Juba took place around Yei Road/UN House, etc., which was very close to the Eye Radio offices. Yet throughout, as diplomats sheltered in place, Eye Radio didn’t stop broadcasting.

As the battle raged, the authorities apparently didn’t like what Eye Radio was reporting on the fighting taking place. At one point, the SPLA reportedly pointed the cannon of one of their tanks at the station.

By the end of the battle, in a separate incident, South Sudanese journalist and aid worker John Gatluak who worked for Internews, which was supporting Eye Radio, was murdered by government forces.

Of course, none of this has fundamentally deterred Eye Radio. From my perspective, since 2016, despite enduring harrowing incidents of their close colleague John killed and reportedly being threatened with literal annihilation during the battle, they have only gotten better.

They are more transparent than ever (even going ahead and publishing Chris Trott’s “misunderstood” comment, along with with the audio of his clearly not misunderstood statement) than ever. There are reports are more informative than ever. Their angles are more incisive.

They are courageous journalists, there is no doubt about it. As South Sudanese wait and wonder – if troops this time will go to their training sites as promised if unlike last time a transitional government will hold – there is need for courageous diplomats who won’t be cowed.

Lives * literally * depend on it. So I wonder, does Ambassador Chris Trott, and the other diplomats, in Juba, have the same courage to speak as truthfully and fearlessly as Eye Radio?


By Jason Patinkin

Covering Africa and more for African audiences at VOA Africa

E-mail: jpatinkin@voanews.com

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