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JUBA - 14 Feb 2021

INTERVIEW: ‘Radios should preach peace, avoid hate speech’-Minister Makuei

Information Minister Michael Makuei
Information Minister Michael Makuei

In commemoration of the World Radio Day-13 February, Radio Tamazuj interviewed South Sudan’s information minister, Michael Makuei, on a broad range of issues including the role of radio in peacebuilding, press freedom, and freedom of speech inter alia.

Below are edited excerpts:

Q: What message would you want to put out on this World Radio Day? 

A: World Radio Day is very important and I would urge all radios to work for peacebuilding, preach peace across the country and around the World. Nowadays I have been observing that some media houses are not working for peace but dividing the people. Instead of speaking about peace and peaceful coexistence, they use what I call ‘hate speech’, and this is not in the interest of radios. So I call on all radios across the world and in South Sudan to continue working for peace.

Q: What role did radios play during the liberation struggle, peace negotiations, and now in peace implementation? Have you observed any positive role of radio during all these periods?

A: I can’t deny that radio has played some positive roles, but there are some up to today who have not played any positive role. That is why I am urging all radios around the world or in South Sudan to work for peacebuilding, and send out messages of peace. Instead of sending hate speech, they should talk a language of peace and they can even disseminate the peace agreement among the people. They should explain the agreement in a very simple way so that citizens can understand. This is what is supposed to happen. Some radios are very hostile. They report only on bad things. Every system has its failures but that doesn’t mean they don’t have positives. To be seen as fair they should report on bad things, yes, but also reflect some positive things as well to be balanced.

Sometimes when you look at the International radios, they only focus on bad things as news. They only concentrate on war and conflicts around the World. This is not fair. They should also focus on positive news sometimes. News cannot be negative all the time.

Q: Some reports have a direct impact on citizens, such as prices of goods and exchange rate. When radios report on these, the government is not happy. But they are reporting so that the government can be informed and can address these issues. How do you respond to this?

A: We don’t reject any constructive criticism, but our problem is destructive criticism which we don’t want. You find people discussing issues on the radio and are using destructive criticism. This is not good. You have a right to criticize the government or behaviors of individuals but not in a destructive way. If you criticize, you should come up with a solution. This is what is called constructive criticism. But what I am seeing on international radios or even local radios is that people criticize but they do not come up with a solution.

There have been some reports about South Sudan that there is no freedom of speech or press freedom. This is not true. What is being reported in the newspapers nowadays can only be said in South Sudan. So those who are claiming that we don’t have freedom of speech or press freedom, what do they want?

Q: Just to give an example, some articles in newspapers are removed shortly before printing on the directives of security personnel. Don’t you think this interferes with press freedom and the work of journalists?

A: The issue is that our journalists and writers are not updated. Have you read the interview with Dr. Adowk (Nyaba)? His interview was published, broadcasted on radios. Such an interview cannot be published in a country that doesn’t have freedom of speech. So there is no way that journalists complain that their articles have been removed or so. Unless the writer was directly attacking someone and agitating at the same time. Even the agitating articles are now free to publish. 

Q: Can we expect that we see our officials and journalists seated in one forum having healthy discussions without being harassed?

 A: Freedoms are rights that are enshrined in the constitution and the law. But some of these freedoms are abused. But we should know that everything that we do has a boundary. Every freedom has its limitations and you are allowed only to use your freedom within the law. But when you cross the limitation and break the law in the name of the freedom of speech that is abuse. When you want to express your freedom of opinion and you write about someone that means you have crossed the line. That means you have abused these rights and this is what is happening here. Everything has a limitation but some of our colleagues think that it is absolute. There is no absolute freedom. Every freedom has a limitation and you are not allowed to cross into the rights of other people.

Q: Looking at the COVID-19 pandemic in South Sudan, do you think radio has played a significant role in raising awareness among the communities?

A: I don’t see much role played by radios but only telecommunications companies. When you make a phone call, you will hear a message on the pandemic. These are the people that I see have contributed to raising awareness. I don’t see much effort being made by radio and television.

What I see today is that the awareness campaign has dropped. Therefore, we need to lift our efforts at this time since there is an increase in new COVID-19 infections before the situation begins to deteriorate. We need to move quickly and contain this situation and make our citizens aware more and more. We cannot fold our hands and not respect health protocols such as keeping the social distance, wearing face masks, washing hands with soap. If we all adhere to these steps, there will be no problem. But the other problem is that our citizens have wrong perceptions about the recent announcement by the COVID-19 taskforce. Many of them think that this is just politics. This is not good. When you go to the market nowadays you find everyone moving without a face mask and they don’t keep the social distance. So what are we doing?

My appeal to South Sudanese citizens, especially those in Juba is that they should follow all the health directives so that we can protect ourselves and protect others as well.

Q: When do we expect the formation of the states’ government and the assembly?

A: Yes, state governments will be formed and currently governors and deputy governors are working to submit final names to the president. So we are waiting for their final recommendations and the announcement will be made.

Q: What about the national parliament?

A: It is the same.

Q: When do we expect that to happen? Is it next month or after two months?

A: Next month all the procedures will have been completed.