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 media in South Sudan, with more than 40 radio stations operating in the country’s 10 states. The main ones – Miara, Eye Radio, Catholic Radio Network face intimidation from the authorities and censorship. There are two state-owned television networks, 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 political leaders impose their agenda on the media, exerting great pressure. National television and radio suffer greatly from a lack of independence. They face threats and sanctions if their programmes don’t adhere to the government line. However, since the Media Authority of South Sudan, the country’s regulatory agency, was established in 2017, media shut-downs are less frequent. It is common for agents of the National Security Service (NSS) to intervene directly in newsrooms or printing plants to censor specific content. Several articles from the Al-Mouqif newspaper were thus deleted in 2019.
In 2013 and 2014, the president promulgated a law on media power, one on radio broadcasting and one on the right of access to information, which make up the legal framework for press freedom and access to information. But these laws do not prevent repeated infringements of press freedom by government officials and the NSS.
Media ownership is highly concentrated, making some media nationally dominant. State-owned media, and those supported by political leaders, tend to receive more advertising than their private counterparts. Taxes, as well the cost of officially registering a news organisation, are very high. This results in a lack of financial resources, creating an environment for corruption. In recent years, several media outlets have closed due to economic constraints.
The civil war that broke out in December 2013 between supporters of the president and those of the vice president, has 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 10 journalists have been killed since 2014. Among them was the British-American independent war reporter Christopher Allen, called the “white rebel” by the authorities, who was shot to death. Impunity is the rule in nearly all cases. Local and foreign reporters who work to provide independent information expose themselves to execution, torture, kidnapping, arbitrary detention, poisoning or harassment. In the face of these dangers, many close their publications or leave the country.