JUBA, June 12, 2021, The outgoing acting Secretary-General, Lily Nelson Michael, is urging the new leadership of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan to genuinely work for the social welfare of the members.
Former acting SG advised the union’s recently elected executive to prioritize time and bargain for the journalists’ welfare.
Simon Deng, a journalist and a member of the union met the outgoing SG where she candidly shared her experiences. Below is the full interview.
First of all, introduce yourself!
I am Lily Nelson Michael Taban and I was elected as finance secretary for the union.
Briefly take us through your educational background, where did you study and which course did take?
I grew up in Upper Nile state, studied my primary education in Upper Nile, I started my intermediate and before finishing my intermediate, I then went for my secondary school also in Khartoum. I joined Sudan University college for girls, where I studied journalism and communication science, I have a bachelor degree on that, before I joined Sudan university college for girls, I studied information and public relation at Sudan university for technology and science. Right now, I am doing my master’s degree, I change the field, now I am studying diplomatic studies at the University of Juba center for peace.
When did you join journalism?
I finish my studies in 1998, I joined the field of journalism as soon as I finished my studies in Khartoum. I joined Al-Asboh Arabic Newspaper, I work for six months after that, I joined Akbar Al-saa newspaper, after that I joined the now Juba Monitor, I am one of the journalists who founded the Juba Monitor which was by then known as Khartoum Monitor with those of Nhial Bol and late Alfred Taban.
Which year did you become acting secretary general of the union
By the way, I am one of the founders of the union.in 2008 when I came to Juba and I joined South Sudan radio at that time and at the same time, I was a correspondent of Khartoum Monitor from here. I joined the group of those who established the union. The union’s founders include Santino Okany, late Albino Okany, Nhial Bol and myself. When we were establishing it, we were running up and down to make sure that we register the union and we become members after establishing the union. I was just a member, I was a veteran journalist.
In 2010, I become full member of the union and from 2010-2013, I was a finance deputy secretary. In 2013-2018, I became a full time finance secretary of the union. From that time, we were asked to carry out the duty to find money to do election after six months but unfortunately the interim period was short and full of challenges as a result we could not manage to get fund for the election, it was supposed to be between Nov 2018 and May 2019 but we failed to mobilize resources to organize the election as required.
What would you say about your achievement?
On my side, I tried my best since I do not know anything about finances but the good thing we were having a good team at the secretariat. Me and the rest of the executive we have worked as a united and focus union. I will say, the little we have achieved today is a result of determination to help each other a union.
What are the challenges you experience in the union especially as Secretary General overseeing the institution activities?
There are numerous challenges but the most and main challenge was handling finances. My role at the union was about money but when late Edward Terso died last year, the executive decided to assign me as the acting Secretary-general and this redoubled my responsibilities in the union.
Another challenge was the withdrawal of the members from the union and this was the hardest time I have faced as the SG of the union, I and the chairman are the one handling the union.
We also had a challenge I trying to organize states elections. We could try to hold meetings through teleconference with executive in Yei, Wau, Yambio and Torit but the period was limited and we were all looking for money to do election. This is where all the states executive decided to nominate me (Lily Nelson) to act because they were afraid to bring someone from outside into the secretariat.
The only challenge I face is the language, I use to speak in public places in English then I find myself suddenly talking in Arabic. I am trying my best to improve my English so that I cannot face this.
What can you say about the media landscape or how do you view it
Media itself is a very unique profession but in South Sudan most people understand the media in different ways especially our politicians, they do not know exactly what kind of role we are playing and what we want to achieve. The politicians need to be taken for a workshop to tell them why journalism is particularly important. Journalists in South Sudan are trying their best to do the work in spite the many challenges, security, economic crisis and the political instability which is affecting them seriously.
I am not happy for those who lost their lives in the line of duty. All who have died, died while trying their best but unfortunately, they have died.
How is the union relationship with partners both local, regional and international?
The union has good partnerships with local, regional and international organization, for example, locally here, we have partnership with all civil society organizations and also we have partnership with different media stakeholders working in Juba. We have a good relationship with CEPO, SSUNDE and SUDAMOP. We also have good partnership with diplomatic corps, example, UK, America, JICA, French Embassy and some other regional embassy including Egypt, they use to send us application for training, and we send Journalists for training. We also have relation with the union from the neighboring countries, we work together with them. We have relation with Uganda journalists union, we sign memorandum of understanding with them, we have good relation with Kenya union of journalists, we have relation with East Africa Journalists association (EAJA), we have a relation with International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), and we are members of IFJ. We have good relation with EAJA but from 2010-2013, some members are editors in media houses, managers cannot full members of EAJA. We have been members of IFJ for 3 years. We use to pay annual subscription fees, recently, I receive alert that we are supposed to pay 2020 subscription fees to IFJ. We have members who been representation the union at conferences in Geneva and the chairperson represented the union in one of the conference in America.
Who are the union’s main donors?
In the beginning, when we established the union, the main donor was NPA, after the failed election which they funded and we failed to conduct the election because of some gaps in election, they were annoyed with us, they stop funding us, I hope NPA after electing the new body, they will come, let them come back again. We also have Open Society of East Africa (OSEA), UNESCO, UNMISS, JICA is coming in now a days.
We have good relationship with media Authority. If you go to get application at media authority, they asked whether you belong to the union, they refer to us to crosscheck. We want them to establish complaint department which is not yet established.
How do you rate the union relationship with the media authority, government?
The union is trying its best to have a good relationship with the government, without good relationship between the union and the government, we will not have ability and capability to protect the journalists, we want them to understand what we are doing and we want them to understand the relationship between us and the other organs of government and why we are important.
When a journalist fall into problem, he should not be taken to Blue House, suppose the case go to complaint department, they have to analyse and cross check whether it will be taken to court. The Director is the one doing all these things. We are also supposed to have lawyers.
The union use to conduct dialogue between security and journalists, security and journalism are two sides of the same coin, one side hide and other side open up cases to the public, the other side is for secrets.
What do you advise to the union in general or journalists in particular?
It is very important to have lobbyists’ strategy, to lobby and work hard for the union, have direct link with media houses and Journalists working there and know basic and essential needs and try to satisfy them. Also there is need to have link with government officials especially those working in the field related to the media and media stakeholders.
We need to understand roles and separate role of media related bodies, Media authority, AMDISS, MDI. That can prevent a fight over roles.
The union has recorded over 300 journalists but recently during general assembly meeting, we registered new members and the number may reach over 400 journalists.
For the new body, I want them to work together, they have to work hard, look for opportunities for the union, let them have direct connection with media houses. We have failed to bargain for the welfare of journalists. Let them work for social the welfare of journalists in media houses. We tried in the beginning of the year but we failed to do so because many of the managers in media houses do not know the role of the union, we try to explain to them but some of them failed to get it. Let them visit our former partners to see how to go and again start the journey with them.
For the journalists, let them stick by code of conduct and ethics of journalism so that they cannot fall into troubles.
By Simon Deng