Panellists discussing safety mechanisms for journalists during 2017 WPFD event in Juba

2017 World Press Freedom Day – Freedom of expression to promote peaceful, Just and Inclusive South Sudan

The Association of Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), Association of Women Media in South Sudan (AMWISS) South Sudan National Editors Forum (NEF), Union of Journalists in South Sudan (UOJSS), Ministry of Information, Communication Technology and Postal Services and local media stakeholders with support from UNESCO commemorated 2017 World Press Freedom Day (WPFD) on 3 May 2017 at Juba Grand Hotel  under the theme “Freedom of Expression to Promote Peaceful, Just and Inclusive societies”.

Speaking during the World Press Freedom Day celebration in Juba, Head of Delegation of the European Union (EU) to South Sudan, Ambassador Stefano De Leo affirmed the commitment of the EU to work in South Sudan as one of the development partners to promote media development.  He emphasised the need to support media in South Sudan in order to provide quality and independent journalism. He said that the EU commends the government of South Sudan of enacting three legislations to regulate the work of media in her three years of independence. At the same time, Ambassador De Leo condemned whatever form of threats against journalists while doing their work and called the authorities to ensure safe conditions for all media practitioners in South Sudan.

In his remarks UNESCO Representative to South Sudan, Mr. Sardar Umar Alam said that for a successful national dialogue and true reconciliation, combined efforts are critical to provide all South Sudanese with quality journalism which will enable citizens to make informed decisions about their society development. “This can only happen when there is enabling environment when journalists can work independently without interference and in safe conditions”, said Mr. Alam.

Offering an overview of the media landscape and safety of journalists in the country, deputy chairperson of the Association of Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) Ms. Mary Ajith stated that in line with the advocacy work, to ensure that the freedom of expression, press and speech is promoted, on the 31st of March 2017, her organization petitioned the President of the Republic of South Sudan, His Excellency Salva Kiir, to reopen the following closed media houses: The Citizen Newspaper; The Nation Mirror; Al aria Newspaper, Altabeer and Free voice, and appealed for the release of the journalists who were in detention.

“Today we are pleased to announce that His Excellency President Salva Kiir responded positively by ordering for the release of one Journalist John Pantheer just one week after AMDISS presented their petition”, acknowledged Ms. Ajith.  She called for the release of George Livio, a journalist who is still under detention and the reopening of the closed media houses for them to join the rest of the South Sudanese in the national dialogue.

However, AMDISS expressed worries about the trend of National Security Personnel deployed at newspapers printing companies to ensure that anything that criticize or doesn’t suit the government interest is removed. “We are in a very critical situation whereby some institutions of government are monitoring the media in support of the government interest of silencing the journalists in telling the truth and balancing the stories.” Ms. Ajith argued.

The event also provided an opportunity to present key findings of the survey “Supporting Safety of Journalists in South Sudan” – an assessment based on UNESCO Journalists’ Safety Indicators (JSI).  The research  commissioned by the Union of Journalists in South Sudan and carried out by the Africa Media Initiative (AMI) is divided  into five key indicator categories, namely: a broad overview of the safety situation in the country; findings on the roles and response of State and political actors; the roles and response of civil society organizations (CSOs) and academia; the roles and response of media and intermediaries; and the roles and response of the United Nations (UN) system and other extra-national actors with a presence in the country for the period 2015-2016.

According to research key findings, South Sudan has legal protection for the freedom of expression and the media and her Constitution guarantees media freedom. However, defamation is regarded as criminal in the penal code and there are clauses in National Security Service Act, 2014, and the Media Authority Act, 2013 that limit press freedom and freedom of expression.

Although the research pointed out falling levels of press freedom and increased state and media censorship as well as state and media houses failure to provide special protections to media practitioners, with South Sudan Media Authority now in place, its managing director Mr. Elijah Alier pledged his organisation support to all efforts to support safety of journalists and called media development donors stakeholders to support the operationalisation and full implementation of the Media Authority Act of 2013.

The Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) says the safety of journalists in the country is of serious concern. “Journalists are not safe because the country is not safe. There is intimidation, there is harassment and there are arbitrary arrests of journalists but we look forward to work with all stakeholders for improved conditions of our journalists.” UJOSS Secretary-General Edward Terso said.

The event closed with awards to two journalists with best reports on human rights and corruption. Lasuba Memo from Eye Radio and Maura Ajak from CRN and their institutions were recipient of the awards organised over by CEPO and UJOSS.

Please see below links for coverage on 2017 WPFD activities in South Sudan.

http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/unifeed/asset/1879/1879371/

http://www.unmultimedia.org/tv/unifeed/asset/1880/1880115/

http://www.theeastafrican.co.ke/news/South-Sudan-marks-World-Press-Freedom-Day/2558-3912092-b4xwc4z/index.html

http://communications.amecea.org/index.php/2017/04/28/south-sudan-south-sudan-to-mark-world-press-freedom-day-with-first-conference/

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