Last Updated: Thursday, 31 July 2014, 17:47 GMT

Media in an Independent South Sudan

Publisher Article 19
Publication Date 24 August 2011
Cite as Article 19, Media in an Independent South Sudan, 24 August 2011, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/4e562f052.html [accessed 2 August 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

On July 9th the South Sudan state was born. However, this birth is mediated by global and regional media outlets. This is because the media in the New State is ill-equipped, undeveloped and least supported. The situation did not change much even with the progressive 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

The all-important self determination agenda has not fairly been grounded in the development of the other fundamental issues of rights to information, media diversity and plurality. It is already an irrefutable truth that a free and independent media can protect people and promote sustainable development. So why hasn't the media sector taken off in the South Sudan?

Perhaps because the existing media is still seen not as a critical sector necessary for not the New State's collective development but also for the individual South Sudanese growth and self-actualisation, the media in the South Sudan is still seen just as a lapdog. Consequently, the Government of South Sudan starts a new era without a comprehensive media and information policy. In fact, most states, except Western Equatorial State, lack any policy and legal guidelines on freedom of information and freedom expression in general and media freedom in particular. They have continued to operate in the Pre-CPA era.

Three pieces of draft laws developed in 2009 with by media stakeholders with the guidance of ARTICLE 19 continue to be held in some deep freezer even after they were initially approved by the cabinet. Similarly, cases are rife of security officers in some states harassing and intimidating journalists and media workers under the guise of implementing the 2003 SPLM/A Administrative Orders. The situation was at its worst during the election period and the subsequent referendum as all local media outlets were pushed to act as mouth pieces of the ruling party –SPLM candidates.

Three reasons have been advanced by commentators for the current situation. First, the government of south Sudan is overwhelmed by the developmental needs in the country. This means it has to give priority to health, education, agriculture, infrastructure and security. Media is thus a distant other given meagre resources. Second, there is limited knowledge and understanding of how the media could play a critical role in the development of the country and give voice to citizens previously unheard because of subjugation. Third, most security officers in the South Sudan continue to brazenly disregard or selectively implement the Interim South Sudan Constitution. In fact when it suits them they have applied the 2004 Press Council Act passed by the National Congress Party-led and dominated parliament in Khartoum. For instance, the editor-in-chief of the Citizen newspaper, Nhial Bol, has in the past three years been arrested and prosecuted under this retrogressive law.

At least two reasons are important for the Government of South Sudan to embark on an aggressive process to develop the media sector as seeks to fast track development in the new African state. The New State under President Silva Kiir is faced with a daunting task of mobilising each and every South Sudanese to step up and participate in the development of their country. Thus, it would be pretentious to believe that such a feat could be achieved without a clear and unequivocal support to local and national media. Citizens must be clearly informed to be able to assist the government in developing key policies and developing immediate priorities for the young nation. This puts clear a case for the development of a sustainable public media- television, radio and internet-based media.

Such a media could be deployed to inform the world of the virgin development and investment opportunities in the country. Public media could also be used in rolling out mass programmes on public health, basic education given that the state would take over five years before it has the requisite personnel in the health and education sectors.

Second, given that the South Sudan is well endowed with natural resources-forests, oil and plenty of arable land, how the state appropriate these resources for the better of all citizens can only be known through the existence of a free, independent and pluralistic media. Like all other countries, there are going to be competing trading groups and countries that would like to exploit the resources. To ensure the government get a fair share of returns, the media is critical as all agreements need not be secretly signed and agreed upon. Oil and timber need not turn into the curse. They must remain the chattel that will lighten the development of the new state.

Thus, as we usher the new state at least some points of quick action. First, the President Salva Kiir Mayardit should rally his legislature to immediately pass the Right to Information Bill, the Public Service Broadcasting Bill and the Broadcasting Frequency Management Bill. These laws will give the new government a clear and progressive legal and policy framework to not only enable the sector thrive but help the government communicate its policies and development priorities in a coherent manner.

Second, media stakeholders should step up their efforts to popularise the Code of Ethics and Conduct for South Sudan journalists and recruit as many media actors to voluntarily submit themselves to scrutiny and accountability.

Media development agencies should pool resources to establish a sustainable media school in South Sudan with a two-pronged curriculum- fresh training course and refresher for practicing journalists, editors and media professionals.

The birth of South Sudan has come at the right. The pregnancy has come to term. We just need the proper mid-wife in the name of government and the parents who are the citizens of South Sudan are willing to discharge their responsibilities. These responsibilities include those of media practitioners reporting accurately, timely priority issues facing the New State. 

Copyright notice: Copyright ARTICLE 19

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