While addressing a news conference in Juba on Tuesday, April 12, a visibly angry Michael Makuei Lueth said political live programmes were unacceptable to the government.
“I have been telling you that these direct on-air programmes are not acceptable. This is where you allow anybody to come and say his rubbish and pass their filthy ideas to the public and you will not be able to control them,” he said.
Makuei told radio stations to pre-record programmes that discuss critical issues during live shows. “I have been telling you that such programmes, I don’t want them. Record your programmes if you want but live programmes are not acceptable,” he stressed.
Makuei also sought to affect media coverage of political developments in South Sudan including President Salva Kiir’s controversial decision to unilaterally split the country’s 10 states into 28. He warned journalists against referring to the 28 states as “proposed states”, and said it was unacceptable for reporters to continue to use names of the previous 10 states.
The Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission (JMEC), which is monitoring the implementation of the peace agreement, said recently that the leaders of South Sudan’s warring parties would have to negotiate over the number of states and their borders.
But Makuei insisted that journalists had to respect the new reality of 28 states in South Sudan adding that it was unacceptable for journalists to refer to the newly created states as proposed states.
“The government has re-divided the 10 states and they have now become 28 states. You are under duty if you want to quote the government quote it as it is [and] don’t write your own whims. This [decision to create] 28 states is not changing whether the SPLM-IO comes or it doesn’t come,” he said.
Makuei said journalists and media houses had to obey or risk being shutdown. “You must come to the line and you must toe the line. If you are a journalist you must use the correct jargons of the government. You are not required to use your own terminologies which you might have used out of ignorance or intentionally,” he warned.
He threatened to deal harshly with radio stations that do not follow government orders. “Some of these FM stations were set up for specific objectives. You have abandoned those objectives and you have moved to a different field altogether. We will check all your documents and any FM radio that operates [here] and it goes against its mandate will answer,” he warned.
He particularly accused the UN’s Radio Miraya and the USAID-funded Eye Radio of hosting live phone-in programmes, which he says allowed government critics to air their views.
“All of these FM stations have become political platforms which are being used now for whatever nonsense is being said against the government. This is not acceptable and you must conform. I am saying this and I mean it,” he said.
While hinting that he might leave the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting when the Transitional Government of National Unity is formed, Makuei said he would drag some journalists who write unfavourably about the government to court.
“We will take you to the courts by the way. We have not taken any body to courts up to now. But take it from me that from today [onwards] if you write any nonsense [about the government] we are taking you to the courts,” he warned.
He added, “we have tolerated all those who have written nonsense [against the government] for too long”.
Makuei’s warnings were the latest in a series addressed to journalists and the media since he was appointed Information Minister three years ago.
In January 2014 a month after war broke out in the capital Juba between forces loyal to President Kiir and his former deputy, Riek Machar, Makuei told journalists “you should clearly say that it was a coup attempt led by Riek Machar”.
In the early months of the conflict, Makuei also warned local journalists not to interview rebels fighting to oust President Kiir saying they would risk imprisonment.
Following his latest warning media rights advocacy groups including the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) and the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) condemned Makuei’s warnings to the media saying such comments were contrary to the laws of South Sudan.
UJOSS Chairperson, Oliver Modi criticised the minister for harassing the media and journalists. “The whole thing is sending a signal or message of intimidation, a message of harassment,” he said.
The Executive Director of a local rights group, Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), Edmond Yakani, said banning live programmes infringes on citizens’ right to freedom of expression. Why should people be denied the opportunity to express themselves?” he asked, adding “if you seal their mouths you are denying them their freedom of speech, which is a right”.
In addition, several comments on social media also termed Makuei’s order to radio stations to end political live programmes a violation of the rights to freedom of expression and speech.