Media seek press-freedom guarantees
As South Sudan transitions to full independence on July 9, journalists and media practitioners are calling on the Government of South Sudan to guarantee media freedom well in advance of that critical moment.
At the centre of this burst of activism is the call by the journalists for the government to fast-track proposed media laws that have languished for years in the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly.
The journalists’ call comes amid a flurry of events in the capital Juba, most notably the the constitutional-review process, but journalists are troubled by an increase in incidents of harassment of members of the media.
“Without media laws we are like footballers playing without rules, and what happens is that anybody can blow the whistle and say these are the rules – his rules," said Mr. Jacob Akol, the Chairman of the Association of Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), the body that has been advocating for the passing of the media laws. "So we need the media laws in order to be able to work within well defined laws for the journalists.”
The media bills were drafted five years ago and because of bureaucratic red tape, they are yet to be passed. There are three proposed laws in all: the Right to Information bill, the South Sudan Public Service Broadcasting bill, and the Independent Broadcasting Authority bill.
Addressing an industry gathering on the role of the media in a sovereign Republic of South Sudan, organized by AMDISS in Juba last Thursday, Dr. Riek Machar, the Vice President of the Government of South Sudan, acknowledged the role of the media as the fourth branch of government, adding that journalists in South Sudan should be up to the task at the dawn of independence.
He said the media should complement the role of the government to better inform the public and create mutual understanding between the governed and governors. Dr. Riek said journalists, therefore, “need an environment with a legal framework that will protect them.”
The media in South Sudan have a daunting task in this new era of independence. Media must first promote sustainable peace to foster development in a country whose infrastructure was destroyed by two decades of civil war that ended in 2005. Healthy media will also be national chaperones of democratic transformation, good governance and rule of law, which together ensure the stability of the soon to be born Republic of South Sudan.
Dr. Barnaba Marial Benjamin, the GOSS minster of Information, is upbeat that the media laws will be passed before South Sudan attains full independence. He said the media laws will give meaning to the freedom of the press and expression enjoyed by journalists in South Sudan during the last six years of the interim period.
He said the government wants the media to be as aggressive in defending citizens' rights as possible, but he challenged journalists to be responsible in their work.
Not everyone in the media is convinced of the government's good intentions, however.