South Sudan media defies gag order on federalism
“This is unbecoming; we cannot be intimidated,” Alfred Taban, deputy chairman of South Sudan’s Media Development Association, said.
“This [gag order] opens the door for a new war on media,” Taban, who is also chief editor of the Juba Monitor, a South Sudanese daily, told attendees at the Editors’ Forum, an event organized in the South Sudanese capital in reaction to the recent security directive.
Some newspaper editors said they had been approached over the weekend by security personnel who asked them to refrain from publishing news about proposals for a federal system.
In recent weeks, South Sudan’s leading politicians have held seminars, meetings and workshops to advocate for a federal system of government as a possible means of solving the country’s ongoing political crisis.
Top on the list of politicians supporting the proposal is Central Equatorial State Governor Clement Wani Konga, who has called for the establishment of three federal regions: Greater Equatoria, Greater Bahr el Ghazal, and Greater Upper Nile.
South Sudanese President Salva Kiir, for his part, has said it is not the right time for the country to adopt such a system.
Addressing members of parliament at the recent opening session of the National Legislative Assembly, Kiir said South Sudan had more pressing issues to deal with.
Speaking at the Editors’ Forum, which brought together chief editors of the country’s leading print houses, Taban stressed the constitutional right of journalists to give voice to all political views.
“We will not abide by the [security] directives,” Taban said. “We will write to inform them [the authorities] about this.”
Other senior editors at the event, however, were of the view that it was not necessary to petition the government on the issue.
Some even suggested imposing a news ban on concerned government officials.
“We have to engage the Minister of Information on this and impose a blackout on the presidential press secretary,” Nhial Bol Aken, editor of the Citizen newspaper, said.
Presidential press secretary Ateny Wek Ateny mentioned the issue of federalism over the weekend, saying the idea had never warranted debate during the country’s current crisis.
Local media, however, has reported that Ateny was the one who had asked the security apparatus to impose the gag order on the issue of federalism.
“We should send a delegation to the minister in this regard,” Aken said. “This government is very fragile and wants us to keep quiet. This is censorship.”
Media personnel attending the forum agreed to seek clarification from the government before deciding on a course of action.
South Sudan fell into chaos last December when Kiir alleged that his sacked vice-president, Riek Machar, was plotting to overthrow his government.
Subsequent months saw South Sudan’s army wage a ferocious war against Machar loyalists, who nevertheless managed to capture several key cities.
Hundreds of thousands of people have since been displaced by the violence, which has in turn led to a major humanitarian crisis.
By Okech Francis