South Sudan now stands at a lowly 124th out of 180 countries in the Reporters Without Borders list. The new nation’s reputation for press freedom was tainted by the murder of a columnist and blogger last year, the first killing of the sort in the world’s youngest nation.
In view of its deteriorating record on press liberty, can South Sudan celebrate May 3 with a clean conscience? As a journalist and columnist based in the capital city Juba, I think this day can help highlight issues which put the media at loggerheads with the government and security personnel.
President Salva Kiir Mayardit urged legislators to debate and pass a number of bills including Right to Access of Information, Broadcasting Corporation, and Media Authority Bills.We can reflect on the bad blood between security forces, those in power and the media. The National Assembly should take the hint and push through the media bills that remain under discussion -- they are much needed to protect vulnerable journalists. When the National Assembly resumed business on April 23, 2013, President Salva Kiir Mayardit urged legislators to debate and pass a number of bills including Right to Access of Information, Broadcasting Corporation, and Media Authority Bills.
If lawmakers heed Kiir’s directive, these laws will open a new chapter for media in this country. The statutes will guarantee, protect and define clearly how journalists and media practitioners would exercise their responsibility as public watchdog.
Some unscrupulous politicians and security personnel have used lack of media law as pretext to harass journalists when they are on their duty. A number of journalists have been detained without trial or threatened with arrests simply while they were doing their job.
As well as the lack of progress on the media laws, Reporters Without Borders pointed out the murder of a columnist, Isaiah Diing Chan Awuol in Juba on December 5, 2012, the first journalist to be killed in the country since separating from Sudan. Critical journalism about politics and security has taken a hit since Abraham’s death.
Awuol’s killers are still at large, but suspicions are strong. He was a fierce critic of the regime and voiced his opinions in blogs and columns. The government promised to investigate, arrest the suspects and bring them to book -- but nothing has come of that pledge.
May 3 should therefore be used by the media to remind the Government about this open case -- and to clamp down on rogue elements of the security forces who hamper journalists in their work.
Indeed, I often criticise some fellow journalists for not working within the scope of professionalism.But hard work is required from all. The arrival of a new legal frame work for journalists would also underline the need for them to work in a professional way, with awareness of libel, privacy, defamation and classified information.
Indeed, I often criticise some fellow journalists for not working within the scope of professionalism. They are either ignorant to journalistic code of ethics or cite South Sudan’s lawlessness to veer away from journalistic standards. I believe if media statutes finally come to effect, these journalists will come back to their senses and will stop disgracing media professionalism in South Sudan.
Above all, the significant date of May 3 serves as a reminder to the government of its duty to respect and uphold the right to freedom of expression enshrined the Universal Declaration of Human Rights -- a notion which is, after all, written in black and white in South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution.