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Conflict and a lack of press freedom scares off media investors in South Sudan

Male Daniel
Newspapers being confiscated, threats of closure and staff being detained are all pressing problems for those working in South Sudan’s hard-pressed media.
4.03.2015  |  Juba
Paul Jacob Kumbo, Director General for Information at the national Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in his office.
Paul Jacob Kumbo, Director General for Information at the national Ministry of Information and Broadcasting in his office.

These problems soured the cautious celebration after President Salva Kiir signed three Media Bills in September 2014.
 
Human rights activists and media experts are worried about the implementation of the ‘Broadcasting Cooperation Act 2013’, the ‘Media Authority Act 2013’ and the ‘Right To Access To Information Act 2013’, arguing that there are no organisations to oversee these laws.

The government is serious to see to it that media works because it is the mirror of everybody and shows people a better way of understanding.”
Paul Jacob Kumbo
Paul Jacob Kumbo, Director General for Information, told journalists that Minister Michael Makue Lueth would focus on the formation of these bodies when he returns from Ethiopia where he is taking part in the country’s faltering peace talks.

Speaking at a media award event, Kumbo said President Kiir was committed to freedom of expression and said the signing of the media law put South Sudan ahead of many other countries in the world which had gained independence far earlier but still lack a legal framework for the media.

Reporters Without Borders’ 2014 Press Freedom Index ranked South Sudan at 119 out of 180 countries for press freedom.

The Director General added that the National Ministry of Information is working to improve the fraught relationship between the media and National Security.

The government is serious to see to it that media works because it is the mirror of everybody and shows people a better way of understanding,” Kumbo said. It can also correct the government intuitions which are getting aloof.”

The Ministry has registered more than 40 FM radio stations and 30 newspapers in the country but few are up and running.

Most media outlets are based in the capital Juba, he said, adding that it often takes more than a week for papers to be transported beyond the capital. Kumbo said editors need to supply their papers to other states and improve investment in the industry.

In January, CEPO-Community Empowerment for Progress Organization, a local human rights advocacy organisation, acknowledged South Sudanese journalists, editors and media houses for managing to report despite the current crisis.

A minute of silence was observed during the ceremony to honour five journalists killed in Western Bahr El-Ghazal on their way to Raja County in a convoy with a commissioner. Their bodies were said to have been cut with machetes before being set ablaze.  

The Union of Journalists in South Sudan — a body responsible for journalists’ safety – says there are 800 journalists operating in the country adding that the conflict had reduced this number. Many journalists are unable to work as media houses struggle to produce and sell their papers.

Deputy Editor of The Citizen newspaper Victor Kerry said confiscation was wrong but also argued that the press should adhere to their professional code of ethics and train staff to avoid slander, defamation, vulgar language, and trouble with the government.

Having a voice is very important in a country like ours that seeks to establish itself as democratic.”
Baker Lule
Baker Lule, Editor of The Nation Mirror Daily, said democracy can only happen if there is freedom of expression. Having a voice is very important in a country like ours that seeks to establish itself as democratic,” he said. As South Sudan is looking for ways to solve the impasse, we must open up all avenues for people to talk.”

Restricting the Media sends out a negative image of the country to the outside world and puts off potential investors, he added, urging reporters to also focus on positive stories, to lure foreign capital back to the country’s media.

How would you get an investor to invest in the media industry when he knows that radio stations like Bakhita can be closed for a month or more or newspapers can print and be confiscated,” Lule asked.

An article in South Sudan’s Transitional Constitution 2011 states: All levels of government in South Sudan shall guarantee the freedom of the press and other media as shall be regulated by law in a democratic society and […] all media shall abide by professional ethics.”

Confiscating newspapers dents the finance of media houses. Lule said that 3,000 printed copies cost nearly 9,000 South Sudanese pounds (approx. USD 3,300) and, if confiscated, advertisers refuse to pay, meaning that a four-day shutdown means a loss of 10,000 SSP a day.

Media houses then struggle to pay their running costs, such as salaries, rent, internet and electricity. At the same time, the conflict means that important transportation routes have been blocked while fewer South Sudanese can afford to buy a newspaper. These combined pressures mean a number of newspapers have been forced out of business.

The media industry in South Sudan is still young, it is still vulnerable,” Lule said.