UN agencies should improve relations with media
South Sudan’s media and its partner UNESCO yesterday joined other countries around the globe to commemorate the International Day for Universal Access to Information.
This day is always marked on September 28 and it aims at ensuring everyone has the right to access and impart information to the public without and hindrance from the political leaders and others in high echelons of power; be it in the government or any other institutions.
According to UNESCO, the Universal Access to information means that everyone has the right to seek, receive and impart information. This right is an integral part of the right to freedom of expression. The media plays a crucial role in informing the public about issues of interest, but it also relies on the ability to seek and receive information.
UNESCO has done a great job in the development of the media in South Sudan through training journalists as well as advocating for the right of access to information. However, while the access to information from most government institutions has improved; the remaining challenge is that the United Nations agencies and some international NGOs operating in the country are still very rigid to share information with the media.
Ironically, these are institutions that claim to be advocating for freedom of expression and access to information have occasionally proven to be more unfriendly to the media than the government. In South Sudan, most journalists find it easier and quicker to access information from the government institutions compared to the United Nations agencies and other international NGOs present in the country.
They are so bureaucratic and sometimes decline to speak to the media whenever journalists try to seek information from them. Most of these NGOs tend to look for the media only when they are receiving donations or when they require funding to support their activities and when they are attacked by armed criminals.
When they need one of these three reasons to be addressed, most of them pretend to be friendly to journalists just because they want to reach out to the public.
Media, in particular, have the right to receive and impart information to the public and independent institutions such as the United Nations agencies should have taken the lead in championing it.
Despite some challenges, the relationships between the media and government and many other public institutions have improved. Most of these officials became friendly to the media hence easing access to information. Government officials have proven that they can easily give information to the media compared to an NGO Country director or a United Nations agency’s communication officer.
This friendship between the government and the media came about as a result of the signed September 2018 Revitalised Peace Agreement that has boosted the working relationship between the media and the authorities.
Unfortunately, the NGOs and diplomatic missions, especially those from Europe and America, have remained very rigid to the local media and treated journalists with suspicion each they are contacted or approached for a piece of information.
These organizations are not supposed to be afraid of the media unless they are doing things under the carpet that they fear will be revealed by the media. Some of them misunderstand the concept of accountability and transparency thinking that only the government should be tasked in that sense forgetting that even the NGOs are not exceptional.
So, they need to work closely with the media instead of using journalists as a stooge to promote their public relations activities instead of serving them with significant information of public interest.
The UN agencies, NGOs, and foreign diplomatic missions need to improve on their relationship with the South Sudanese media because even the high authorities who are the custodians of the country have taken a more friendly trajectory in liaising with members of the press.