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‘One Citizen Daily’ report on Juba land grabs below par

Primitive accumulation of land is a big problem in South Sudan’s capital city, Juba. In 2021, President Salva Kiir formed a 12-member committee to investigate and stop the widespread land grabbing.

This is why the public must have sighed with some relief when the One Citizen Daily newspaper on Friday, March 8, 2024 reported that a court in Juba had sent to jail and fined “at least” 13 people, “including South Sudan Peoples Defence Forces (SSPDF) officers” found to have obtained land fraudulently.

Reporter Jurugo Emmanuel Ogatso introduced his story, thus:At least thirteen individuals, including SSPDF officers, have been sentenced to two months in prison and fined 250,000 SSP each for land grabbing and malicious damage.” Twenty-two others found with a similar offence were fined 100,000 SSP and will be held behind bars until they pay up.

Readers were told that the Ladu Payam administrative officer – where the crime is said to have taken place – was not happy with the punishment the court meted out on the culprits, describing it as lenient. He raised fears the convicts would likely take revenge on those who took them to court upon completing their jail sentences.

“These people have been disturbing us in Jebel Lado and according to me the judgement is too small (sic), I want them to stay like years in prison even without paying fine,’’ said Ladu Setimo.

However, Molubo Boma chief, Franko Hussain Joseph, appreciated the quick action taken by the security and the state organs, thanking them for ensuring justice for the community. His property was destroyed by the land grabbers when they invaded his home a fortnight ago.

Reporter Ogatso should have provided more information to do justice to this important story. He didn’t.

Instead, he relied on a single story from Ladu Payam administrative officer Ladu Setimo. That was the height of journalistic laziness that failed to confirm for the readers crucial details of the incident.

For starters, a journalist worthy of covering the courts must always ask for and obtain the charge sheet and sworn, received and court-stamped affidavits on a case. Those are the documents containing all the necessary information about a matter before a magistrate or a judge. They enable a reporter to get the full view of a case. Particularly, affidavits contain the fullness of intended arguments by counsel or prosecution and invoke various aspects of the applicable law(s) as to confine a crime in its legal pigeonhole. Snippets from those documents, told well, enable readers to weigh the matter, and appreciate the gravity of the sentence issued.

However, the One Citizen Daily newspaper story fell on its sword, in many aspects.

One, the story, clearly bereft of a charge sheet and affidavits – and relying on the narration of a third party – did not contain the details of the charge, only sweepingly stating that land was grabbed, and that “at least 13” (no exact number indicated) convicts were jailed and fined. Arrant nonsense!

Two, the story did not say whose land was grabbed; the accuser who took the suspects to court. Consequently, readers were confronted with a judgement issued against suspects without the wing of the accuser.

Three, readers were not told the sizes of the pieces of land that were allegedly grabbed, their current market value to appreciate the gravity of the sentence and fines meted out.

Four, land grabbing is never done by one person. There must have been other characters who participated in the heist. Who were they? What positions did they hold in the society, generally, and in the government, particularly? The story did not say.

Five, what is the state of the pieces of land said to have been acquired fraudulently? Are they developed (and with what type of structures) or are they lying fallow? What is the consequential value of the developments, if at all, as to push up their current value? Did the good judge consider such developments in the judgement? Readers were not told.

The One Citizen Daily report smacked of a single-story syndrome. It was clear the reporter was not in court when the judgement was delivered. And that was – journalistically speaking – furiously unethical. Its content was, therefore, highly contestable.

Lesson learnt? Journalists should never cover court cases from third parties. They must avail themselves of relevant case documents and be physically in court to listen to arguments and subsequent court decisions. That is the stuff that court reporting is made of.

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