Media in times of conflict: Can it unite South Sudanese?

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Demonstration for peace mid this year

Demonstrations for peace ealier this year in Yei. Can social media be used as a tool for fostering peace?

Media is a tool of communication that makes it easier to access several resources including education, information and entertainment. It provides everyone with everything they need in terms of knowledge.
In times of conflict in war-torn South Sudan, social media, as a tool of communication, can contribute to the efforts in peace making.
However, there are a couple of questions to be asked about social media: Are users utilizing it constructively to spread information about the situation in South Sudan? Are they using social media with the mindset of aiding efforts of peacemaking in the region?
The answer to this can be both yes and no. There are some online pages or groups that are doing tremendous work in the areas of peace building, uniting communities and fighting tribalism. On the other hand, social media also has the potential to become a bomb which could make the conflict in South Sudan explode.
Article 24 of the 2011 South Sudan Transitional Constitution grants citizens the right to free expression and says “all media shall abide by professional ethics”. “Every citizen shall have the right to freedom of expression, reception and dissemination of information, publication, and access to press without prejudice to public order, safety or morals as prescribed by law, states section one (1) of the article.
Taking advantage of the right of free expression, many citizens think attacking South Sudanese communities with divisive words applies to this article. This is exactly how it’s being said in the social media posts that urge for violence.
Urging for violence in these posts means adding more fuel to the fire that is burning lives and putting more citizens in danger. Many people are using social media to destroy the unity and diversity of South Sudanese communities.


Wrongful use of media in war times can make it a tool to incite violence
Media reports show that we have lost a number of our brothers and sisters in the name of “targeted killings”, with some killings being the result of instigated anger over social media posts. Wrongful use of media in war times can make it a tool to incite violence.
I like using Facebook. However, it becomes painful to read, among the posts that I often get, especially in groups, conflict-instigating posts. These inappropriate posts could be in the form of one speaking out against a tribe, news of a killing committed on ethnic lines, the revealing of a vulnerable child without protection etc..
South Sudanese united together and struggled for decades to liberate themselves from the Khartoum regime, in order to govern themselves as black people who are united. Many South Sudanese, who were brothers and sisters from different tribes, died during the freedom struggles until independence was gained on July 9th 2011.
It is very unfortunate that there was a political flare-up in Juba in mid December 2013 and also July this year, that claimed many lives and displaced millions – within the country and outside the country.
Countless of local and international calls have been made to plead for the end to the violence. The journey for peace continues, no matter the obstacles. And the media is not excluded in this struggle to end the violence.
In addition to the war, there is also targeted killing, which is ruining the unity of the people in this country. Targeted killings may be instigated by posts on social media. Therefore, to prevent this, social media users should analyze their posts prior to uploading them.
Many users just hurry while posting, putting little thought into what they are doing, and posting to gain prestige and invite people to take revenge on people. I am asking; Why must we propagate bloodshed along ethnic lines through the social media?
Having an account on social media does not give you automatic permission to post anything you want when it could result in the killing of citizens. I congratulate South Sudan’s “DefyHateNow” campaign for scaling up efforts to end hate speech in our country.
Increase of awareness of citizens at all levels on how one can use the media positively as a medium of communication is necessary. Leaders at all levels should be good examples in their speech and actions.
Some media personnel bypass professional ethics in writing and editing stories by running emotionally-driven stories with inciting headlines. If it’s money or anger driving you to run such a provocative story without reflecting on the consequences of running it, then you have thrown away your professionalism.
The source may speak in anger, and may call for violent revenge, but it is your role as media personnel to go through each story in accordance to your professional ethics.


‘Take precautions’
It is surprising that some media news reports also contain very provocative statements from extremely biased sources.
Let me quote Poverty Alfred, a Press Freedom Monitor, who says one needs to “take into mind security precautions that take us to another level of work”. As journalists, sticking to the professional ethics and code of conduct over and over again is the key.
In times of conflict, there is need for peace partners to heighten sensitivity of media practitioners and social media users on conflict reporting. Creating pages or online groups to provide daily education to social media users on the essence of promoting media for peace could resurrect the unity of the South Sudanese and indirectly end the violence stimulated through the media.
Most times, once you post, no matter how dangerous or constructive it is, friends will like, share and comment. As the post goes out, it spreads to your friends all over the world. A wise friend immediately neglects or even removes it if it is harmful.
The Bible says in Mathew 15: 11 that “What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”
Therefore, let us be very careful in our communication. Harmful communication buries lives, but positive communication gives life. Don’t be driven to post harmful words about the hardships you have faced to add more harm on fellow brothers and sisters.
Before posting, liking, sharing or commenting on a post on social media, it’s important to contemplate on the impact that the message will have on you and the lives of other people.

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