UNESCO contributes to a campaign to support freedom of media in South Sudan
The UNESCO Cairo Office together with the Media Development Institute (UK) have launched a campaign to promote the press freedom and right to freedom of expression in the new African state of South Sudan.
3000 copies of the People’s Voice special edition addresses the issues of press freedom and media freedom as well as the rights and responsibilities of journalists. The supplement was produced and printed with the Organization’s support. It was distributed by the Juba Post and Southern Eye, the two biggest independent newspapers in the South Sudan.
The People’s Voice Press Freedom special edition was produced by the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS), in partnership with the Media Diversity Institute and the UNESCO Cairo Office. The supplement addresses such taboo topics as the issue of self-censorship among South-Sudanese journalists. The article describes how journalists in the country resort to self-censorship when covering sensible issues such as politics, tribal conflicts or corruption so as to avoid the risk of loosing their jobs or being arrested. The Media Bill, long awaited by the whole profession, has not yet been passed and thus there are no clear lines of what is acceptable or not to write in an article. If self-censorship can be considered as an healthy method and a proof of journalists' sens of responsibility and honesty, on the other hand it can also be feeding inaccuracies and lies if the writer is pressured to do it.
Another analytical article presents a report on the South Sudan done by the UJOSS Press Freedom Observatory (PFO), which provides an overview of the state of press freedom in the new-born country. The first report of PFO, which relies on interviews of local reporters, head of national radio and members of UJOSS working on the ground, shows how journalists, who are operating in an atmosphere of fear and suspicion, constantly suffer from harassment, lack of internet or mobile access and censorship. Their role to report in a free and trustworthy manner on events is often considered as a threat for the local authorities and especially for the security forces in those border regions where there are constant tensions between the northern and southern armies.
The supplement also reports on the case-studies exposing the most dramatic examples of attacks on press freedom in the country. In April 2010, a reporter working for an online newspaper was arrested and detained for thirteen days. He was accused of spying by pretending to be a journalist. This happened after he published a story reporting on a case of corruption which implicated state authorities. There are many examples of such attacks on journalists in the South Sudan which reinsure of the compelling need to promote and establish the fundamental democratic principle of freedom of expression in the world's youngest nation.
The People's Voice also publishes an interview of Dr. Barnabas Benjamin Marial, Minister of Information of the Government of South Sudan (GoSS). The minister presents his views of the state of press freedom in the country: “Freedom of expression is the cornerstone of the democratic process in any society keen on promoting human rights in all aspects of life. Since the days of struggle as the Sudanese People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) and now as the government of the Republic of South Sudan, freedom of expression remain one of our major principle positions (…) We have over 37 FM radios, church radios stations, civil society radios, …” The supplement briefly elaborates on the UNESCO Cairo Office projects aimed to support media development in the South Sudan, namely its project to train local journalists on post conflict sensitive reporting.