'The crack of gunfire could be heard from within the radio station' | radioinfo

'The crack of gunfire could be heard from within the radio station'

Tuesday 14 January, 2014

Former Triple J Hack reporter Irene Scott now lives and works for the UN in Juba, South Sudan. She has filed this report for radioinfo.

 
For the last month South Sudan has been in a state of conflict. More than 200,000 people have been displaced, 60,000 have sought shelter within United Nations compounds around the country and estimates of the death toll range from one to ten thousand people killed.
 
And right in the middle, you’ll find Radio Miraya, the UN’s radio station in South Sudan.
 
I moved to the capital of South Sudan in October as a United Nations Volunteer, a program that connects professionals with UN positions in every civilian area of the mission all around the world.
 
I reported on South Sudan’s independence vote just two years ago for Triple J’s Hack program. I remember the words of hope and excitement coming from Melbourne’s South Sudanese community.  Many planned to go home, start a new life.

The promise of working at a UN radio station and seeing this nation up close was too good to pass up and, after a little over a year of working in media development in the Solomon Islands I was ready for a new challenge.
 
Radio Miraya broadcasts across the majority of the country on FM and shortwave and boasts four times the listeners of any rival station.
 
The majority of the staff here at the station are South Sudanese; supported by a small team of international staff from around Africa, Bhutan, the Philippines, Greece and two ex-ABC Aussies.
 
While some of the issues in the newsroom are like any all over the world; deadlines, the struggle for comment and the odd slow news day, the recent conflict in South Sudan has highlighted a swag of new challenges for the station.
 
We started getting reports of gunfire in Juba late on Sunday night, December 15. Friends frantically calling from restaurants around town saying they had been told to stay off the roads, and shooting had erupted in town. Security broadcast messages over our handheld radios; no staff were to leave the UN bases until they worked out what the hell was going on.
 
By Monday morning, the crack of gunfire could be heard from within the radio station. The focus of the fighting that day was at Bilpam, an army base less than a kilometre away from the UN base at Tomping where the station broadcasts.
 
I remember standing outside the studio, with the Head of Radio, fellow Australian, Sonya de Masi, staring in the direction of the constant pop and crack and occasional boom not far away. The situation was unclear. Until 9 am, we had no staff. International staff live within the UN base, however national staff, the on air talent, the newsreaders the all-important public face and beating heart of the station all live in town. A town in complete lockdown; military roadblocks on every major road, frustrated calls from journalists stopped by the army from going anywhere near the station.
 
Over the last month Radio Miraya has maintained a strong on air presence. News on the hour in English and Arabic and a current affairs program – all produced with a fluctuating skeleton crew.
 
Long hours in a hot-blooded, adrenaline soaked environment.
 
The conflict is not just something we report on; our journalists, presenters, almost all our national staff have been touched in one way or another. Whether it’s losing family members, being detained by the authorities or having their houses and shops looted and burnt to the ground.
 
Some are former child soldiers retrained as journalists, the conflict an all too fresh reminder of the decades the country has already spent at war.
 
Some simply stopped coming to work, others, even the worst affected by the violence turn up like clockwork every day, eagre to hunt for some semblance of clarity amongst the muddy flow of rumour, propaganda and competing opinions.

Around 20,000 Internally Displaced People (IDP’s) now call our UN base home. While at one end of camp UN staff work in portable offices, at the other, men, women and children spend up to 5 hours a day lining up for water, food and shelter. They find whatever shade they can to escape the blaring sun and try to piece together the fluid events of the last month.
 
People began running to the base on the first day of the conflict, terrified and already speaking of unimaginable human rights abuses. And they kept coming. Now IDP’s run shops within the camp, have set up shisha bars, a church and multiple international Non-Government Organisations manage the daily running of what has become a small town unto itself.
 
In the last month I’ve dashed to the communal bathroom when the gunfire sounded much, much too close, lugged a grab bag and flak jacket to work, been evacuated to Uganda, un-evacuated back to Juba and as I write, I’m sitting in the back of an Australian Defence Force C17 with a crew of Aussies transporting hundreds of tonnes of vital supplies from the UN Logistics base in Brindisi, Italy, to Juba.
 
The sun has just gone down, we’ve had the best plane food I may have ever eaten and with the perpetual drone of the aircraft’s powerful engines the crew are kicking back, watching films on laptops or catching a few hours of much needed sleep.
 
It’s a strange place to find a little calm after the adrenaline of the last month. But, for now, I’ll take what I can get. 
 

You can stream Radio Miraya at www.radiomiraya.org or can stay in touch with Irene’s travels in South Sudan on her twitter feed @iseescott or on her blog, http://sudancingontheceiling.tumblr.com/

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