Skills-gaps Hurt Coverage of Environment in South Sudan

Written by: 
Ssekajjijja Augustus

In Malakal, in the Upper Nile State of South Sudan, journalists gathered early this month to celebrate the World Press Freedom Day. At the end of the day’s events, they all made one important call: more training to improve their skills.

In a way, the voices of the journalists in Malakal are representative of the journalists in South Sudan especially on the issue of environment and climate change. A FOJO Institute study conducted in 2022 pointed out gaps in the reporting of climate change issues by the media in South Sudan. According to the report, the coverage is mostly influenced by events such as climate conferences and disasters. It says climate change is seen as a beat yet it cuts across other beats such as economics, health, politics, food security, and agriculture among others. Lastly, stories on environment and climate change are largely left to foreign media or news networks.

The lack of skills may be partly responsible for this. As the country prepares for general elections in December 2024, several media development organisations are stepping in to prepare journalists through tailored training. For instance, UNESCO has funded the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJoSS) to “skill” 15 journalists on elections reporting and coverage of the constitution-making process. In December 2023 UJoSS delivered yet another round of training to enhance media coverage on food security and resilience.

A 2022 overview of the media in South Sudan conducted by KAS points out that the media landscape in South Sudan requires significant investments in building the capacity of South Sudanese journalists. While training institutions such as the University of Juba have journalism training programmes, they have challenges which make it difficult for them to produce a practical oriented journalist ready for the market.
To fill this skills gap, organisations such as the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) have been stepping in though their efforts are still insufficient in a sea of skills gaps. Besides, they, just like international media organizations such as BBC’s Media Action and VOA’s South Sudan in Focus, need to pay as much attention to the coverage of environment as they do other beats.

The media in South Sudan cannot afford to sit back and watch as the country environmental crises.

A 2023 joint agency report on protecting Children in South Sudan's Food Security Crisis, says up to 7.7 million people, including 3.3 million children, are in desperate need of food and livelihood support. In early 2024, Eye Radio published a UN report predicting that 7.1 million people will suffer high levels of acute food insecurity between April and July 2024, especially in areas devastated by climate-related shocks.

These issues have got a history, background and context. They have a human face because the victims are mainly ordinary, powerless people. The media needs to be equipped to break these issues down and to tell the stories. When floods batter central South Sudan, for instance, like it has in Jonglei, Unity, and Upper Nile states, more than 50% of the population will be affected. Besides floods, they also face acute food shortages.