Media practitioners converged on May 3, 2016 in South Sudan’s capital Juba to draw attention to their plight and pay tribute to journalists who have faced threats or even death during their professional work. The gathering came just two weeks after global media watchdog Reporters without Borders ranked South Sudan as falling to 15 places in stifling media freedoms, putting it at 140 out of 180 countries.
The killing of columnist Isiah Abraham, Peter Julius Moi and the long detention without charge of UN-sponsored Radio Miraya reporter George Livio, who has been imprisoned since 2014, overshadow the fledgling industry’s reputation.
We are not really coming here to celebrate, really we are coming here to remind the government that it is its responsibility to safeguard the rights of journalists and also to allow freedom of expression.
South Sudan’s low international ranking is blamed on killing of journalists, harassments, arrests and detention without charge as well as suppression of the media.
Media bodies including the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS), Association of Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) and Association of Media Women in South Sudan (AMWISS) have long pleaded with the government to create a conducive environment for outlets and practitioners.
“We are not really coming here to celebrate, really we are coming here to remind the government that it is its responsibility to safeguard the rights of journalists and also to allow freedom of expression,” said veteran journalist and proprietor of Juba Monitor, Alfred Taban Logune, who is also Chairman of the Association of Media Development in South Sudan.
He stressed that the country’s Transitional Constitution guarantees press freedoms and said the government must uphold the constitution.
There were also murmurs in the audience when it was noted that no officials from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting attended the event.
Article 32:1 of the constitution states: “Every citizen has the right of access to official information and records, including electronic records in the possession of any level of government or any organ or agency thereof, except where the release of such information is likely to prejudice public security or the right to privacy of any other person.”
But Internews Chief Deborah Ensor, expressed concern over the outlook for press freedoms. “Few people in this beautiful country even have access to media,” she said.
A recent Internews survey indicates, just one out of five respondents ever read a newspaper, fewer than one in ten have ever used the internet, only 12 percent have access to media that the rest of the world takes for granted like daily access to mobile phones, radio and internet.
Ensor urged the media and stakeholders to use their outlets to advance peace, at a time when more than two years of violent conflict have left the country in tatters.
The survey, commissioned by Internews and conducted by Forcier Consulting entitled ‘We’re Still Listening: A Survey of the Media Landscape in the Accessible Areas of South Sudan in 2015’, reported that 67 percent of the population acknowledges the power of radio broadcasts in helping to reduce conflict, as compared to five percent who think it can increase it.
Salah Khaled, whose agency UNESCO was the lead organiser for the commemoration of the World Press Freedom Day in Juba, said it was also a day to remind the government of the need to respect press freedoms and their constitutional role to protect all the citizens including journalists.
We use this occasion to take stock of the challenges facing the media and remind decision makers of the fundamental principles of press freedom and to evaluate press freedom in our member states.
“We use this occasion to take stock of the challenges facing the media and remind decision makers of the fundamental principles of press freedom and to evaluate press freedom in our member states,” he said.
On the global impunity index, South Sudan is rated second worst in Africa and is in fifth position globally as a result of a range of cases committed against journalists without perpetrators being brought to book.
The head of the newly established Media Authority, Atong Majok, said her organisation regulated the media and advised the government.
Atong told the media to focus on enforcing ethics and high journalistic standards. “The media should show the government that their reporting is not to damage the country’s development or reputation but to keep the nation informed about certain issues that have not come to their attention,” she told the gathering.
The event that closed with a panel discussion and Radio Bakhita Directress Josephine Fartelo, CEPO civil society leader Edmund Yakani and Alfred Taban were honoured for their continued struggle in advocating for media rights and freedoms in the country.