Freedom of the press is extremely precarious in South Sudan, where journalists work under constant threat and intimidation, and where censorship is ever-present.
Radio is the most popular medium in South Sudan, with more than 40 radio stations operating in the country’s 10 states. The main ones – Miara, Eye Radio, and Catholic Radio Network – face intimidation attempts and censorship from the authorities. There are two state-owned TV broadcasters, the national South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation and the regional EBC, and six newspapers, four published in English and two in Arabic. Only two of the English-language newspapers – No. 1 Citizen and City Review – are free of government influence.
Most of South Sudan’s political leaders apply a great deal of pressure to impose their agenda on the media. National TV and radio suffer greatly from a lack of independence and are threatened and sanctioned if their programmes don’t toe the government line. Media shut-downs nonetheless became less frequent after the Media Authority (MA), the regulatory body, was established in 2017. Officials from the National Security Service (NSS) often raid news media or printing plants in order to censor specific content. Several articles from the Al-Mouqif newspaper were thus deleted in 2019.
In 2013 and 2014, the President enacted the Media Authority Act, the Broadcasting Corporation Act, and the Right of Access to Information Act, which constitute the legal framework for the promotion of press freedom and access to information. But these laws have not prevented repeated and continuous press freedom violations by government officials and the NSS.
Media ownership is highly concentrated and has created dominant players. State-owned media and media backed by politicians tend to receive more advertising than their privately owned counterparts. Taxes and the cost of officially registering a media outlet are very high, leaving the media short of funds and creating a favourable environment for corruption. Economic constraints have forced several media outlets to close in recent years.
The civil war that broke out in December 2013 between supporters of the president and those of the vice-president revived ethnic conflicts that affect journalists’ work. Reporters belonging to one ethnic group cannot cover events in parts of the country where another ethnic group dominates. Women journalists have been denied authorisation to conduct interviews and cover events.
At least nine journalists have been killed since 2014. They include British-American freelance war reporter Christopher Allen, called the “white rebel” by the authorities, who was shot dead while covering a rebel group. Impunity prevails in nearly all cases. Both South Sudanese and foreign journalists who try to provide independent reporting expose themselves to execution, torture, abduction, arbitrary detention, poisoning, and harassment. In the face of these dangers, many decide to stop publishing or leave the country.