Contributor's Opinion

In South Sudan, free media goes up in smoke


By Joseph Oduha,

South Sudan journalists covering an unknown event in unknown location in South Sudan (File photo)
South Sudan journalists covering an unknown event in unknown location in South Sudan (File photo)

October 2, 2019(Nyamilepedia) — In South Sudan, everything you may know of a civilized society doesn’t seem to work.

Check press freedom, for example. Most open democracies place importance on free journalism, devoting more and more resources to fostering vibrant and unfettered media communities.

In South Sudan, the Reporters Without Borders (RSF) say the country was 139 out of 180 in press freedom ranking. Transparency International says South Sudan is 178 out of 180

Yet in South Sudan, freedom of the press and of speech are guaranteed in the Transitional Constitution.

Of recent, two South Sudan journalists were being held in detention by the country’s National Security Service (NSS), a government spy body. 

Mr Michael Christopher, an Editor-in Chief of Al-Watan Arabic daily newspaper and Mr John Agok of the local Rumbek radio have faced no charge though they were released later. 

It’s unfortunate that despite the media laws in place and awareness about the role of Media Authority in handling media issues, NSS is still crossing those guidelines. 

The law is very clear that if any Journalist is suspected of having committed any offence in their work a complaint is remitted to Media Authority which I believe all law enforcement agencies in the country should really respect. 

There are about 10 journalists who have been killed in line of duty in South Sudan since independence to date. Fortunately, none has been killed this year which is good news for us in the media industry in this young nation but it is bad news when some government officials keep warning journalists on unprofessionalism. 

I sometimes disagree with most of these comments that South Sudan journalists are unprofessional. Even some incompetent ministers who know nothing completely about journalism usually speak loudly that “you (journalists) are not professional.” 

One could wonder where this so called unprofessionalism does comes from when we have competent and professional journalists currently still active in the field. 

Well, for me this revelation is comparatively like telling someone to clean his eye when you don’t even clean yours. 

I also noticed that some officials are using this word as a cover to stifle press freedom which they are now successfully doing it.  

These attempts to always blame journalists for not professional especially when highlighting human rights violations show the proliferation intimidation and they constitute an attack on press freedom itself. 

It is also one of the most discouraging developments of several South Sudan media professionals. 

Since mid-December, 2013, the state of independent journalism has been steadily deteriorating in South Sudan, and this although few countries in the world so desperately need objective reporting.

Mid-December 2013 was the launch of what has turned out to be a protracted and concerted attack on South Sudan’s media by the country’s government and institutions responsible for this sector.

This attack has, unfortunately, been highly counterproductive. Large numbers of journalists have quietly left their professions. Others fearing for their lives have fled to neighboring countries.

A number of media organizations decided to restrict their coverage to supposedly safe topics and to make sure that their staff had ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds that are acceptable to the powers that be.

Among the brave rest, those who have resisted this crackdown, a number have been killed. Others have suffered detention or systematic harassment.

Along with the journalists and with the truth itself, prime sufferers from this attack have been the people of South Sudan, who have lost their ways of learning what’s really going on in their country, and their ways of expressing their concerns and wishes.

Any attack against the media freedom always leave the people in a cloud of ignorance and uncertainty.

Honestly, South Sudan remains one of the most corrupt countries in the world since there are few independent institutions to provide oversight – an independent press needs to be here from the beginning to rectify this trend.

It is worth noting that this cloud of press repression has partially lifted in 2018 and in the first part of 2019, in which investigations of illegal and corrupt practices on the part of the government of South Sudan and its corporate allies were conducted by international organisations and NGOs. These investigations revealed scandalous misappropriations of public funds, horrible environmental practices, and widespread abuses of human and environmental rights.

Conflict and vested interests have waned trust away in South Sudanese society. An independent press, a voice that people can rely on as factual and impartial is so crucial to re-establish the traditional trust and support systems that used to be so abundant and relied upon in South Sudan’s culture.

It is through independent and free press can create vibrant economic and political empowerment in the country.

When journalists are independent the country benefits from accurate, reportage that lead to critical thinking hence citizens will make informed decisions of their own. 

Presently, the ongoing peace process need free and independent journalism that can shape parties engagement toward the implementation of the deal. 

Conclusively, our government officials should shun from blaming game all the time directed to the media professionals. We are in peace season and we need free and independent journalism to proliferate in South Sudan. 

The author Mr. Joseph Oduha is a South Sudanese journalist. He can be reach by abunabet@gmail.com 

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