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Juba’s Number One Citizen Daily plunged into unverified story and bungled

analysis, monitoring

An allegation promising a big story swirled its way into the airwaves of South Sudan’s capital city, Juba, nearly two weeks ago.

Eye Radio station broadcast a short and rumbling story to the effect that immigration officials in Rwanda were mishandling South Sudanese citizens at the border, seeking to verify mountains of demanded travel and other unspecified documents. That was on October 11.

Come October 21, Number One Citizen Daily newspaper went to town with a story based on the Eye Radio broadcast. Only that this time, theirs was a product of what they billed as “an exclusive interview” with South Sudan’s ambassador to Uganda, Simon Juach Deng Juach.

Titled ‘No mistreatment of South Sudanese students in Rwanda – Ambassador’, the story by Mamer Abraham opened, thus: South Sudan Ambassador to Uganda has dismissed allegations of mistreatment of South Sudanese students in Rwanda.”

His second paragraph was a rush to clarify things: “Ambassador Simon Juach Deng Juach is also a non-resident ambassador to Rwanda and Burundi.”

Reporter Abraham dedicated 11 paragraphs to the ambassador, allowing him to pour enough cold water on the “unverified rumours” by stating, among others that:

Paras 3 and 4: He (Ambassador Juach) had not heard of any case where South Sudanese were mistreated in Rwanda, or any plans by the Kigali administration to deport them.

Paras 5 and 6: Although South Sudanese don’t require visas to visit Rwanda, Kigali is thorough in verifying travel documents and doesn’t tolerate those bent on taking undue advantage of “the Sudanese crisis” to maneuver their way into claiming asylum in Europe.

Paras 7 to 11: Rwanda arrested, tried, and deported [compare this to paras 3 and 4] some South Sudanese found with narcotic drugs, and that it would be wrong to publish stories that paint Kigali as an uncooperative partner.

The ambassador went on. And on.

It wasn’t until the 12th paragraph that reporter Abraham revealed what was the cause of the official’s ire: “The Ambassador was responding to a report published by Eye Radio on October 11, 2023, which stated that South Sudanese were denied entry into Rwanda and mistreated by immigration officers.” Here, discerning readers realised Eye Radio was the eye of the storm!

The story ended at paragraph 18 without answering the germane questions: So what? What next? Why should I care, anyway? It required several journalistic investments to make it worth a reader’s while.

One, the Number One Citizen Daily newspaper reporter picked an allegation from Eye Radio and rushed to interview the ambassador who responded with the expected official line – denial. Journalist Abraham should have sought details – if at all – from one Ruot Mawich who was the source of the story published earlier by the competition.

Here: “According to the [Eye Radio] report, a South Sudanese representative named Ruot Mawich said the students were subjected to too-serious interrogation instead of confirming their details, whether they were students or not.” Forget that even the radio station did not say whom Ruot Mawich represented – South Sudanese generally, or students, specifically?

Good reporting demands that the original source adds meat to whatever is already known. Anything short of that additional legwork has the danger of making Number One Citizen Daily look like a jilted loser playing catch-up to a story over which it was flatly thrashed by the competitor.

Two, if the story broken by Eye Radio was to be believed, its source – assuming he was quoted correctly – was roundly self-contradicting as to be conflicted. This ‘confession’ was made by reporter Abraham himself in paragraph 14: “Again, they ask you to pay the school fees for the first semester. How will you pay the school fees at the border while you have not even reached the school?” Ruot Mawich was quoted as saying. This part begs repeating. Where is school fees paid at a border point?

Three, the story project seemed to have been problematic right from inception. Listen to paragraph 15: “However, the report further indicated that Eye Radio was unable to independently verify the allegations.” That was why Number One Citizen Daily should have sought additional information from the original source before bouncing straight-jacket questions on the ambassador.

The government official disclosed that Rwanda deported some South Sudanese students who were linked to narcotic drugs. Why didn’t reporter Abraham pursue this lead: Who and where are they? When were they deported? What action, if at all, did the home government take against them upon their return to Juba? Just like that, he let a good story slip away.

Finally, Number One Citizen Daily told readers the story was generated from its ‘exclusive interview’ with Ambassador Simon Juach Deng Juach. Why didn’t the paper publish the questions asked so as to lend the story the much-needed feel of depth, pace and believability?

Lesson learnt? Any journalist resorting to do a follow-up on an already broken story must strive to add value to the known. The story on the treatment of Kigali-bound South Sudanese at the border is dripping with so many leads waiting to be pursued. And be told correctly and fully.

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