S Sudan: Media fights for free press

2011-03-17 13:55

kalahari.com

Juba - Six weeks after Southern Sudan voted for independence in a widely praised referendum, security agents stormed the region's first printing press and arrested a top journalist, the latest assault on reporters fighting to create a free press here.

Newsman Nhial Bol said he was detained last month as he gave Norwegian diplomats a tour of his new press, which was partly paid for by Norway's embassy and took years to build.

He said he was criticising the government's repressive media politics at the very moment two dozen plainclothes agents armed with AK-47s arrived.

The men told the diplomats to leave. Bol said the agents put him in the truck and drove him around for two hours. He was eventually released without charge.

Bol later said he believes the harassment was retaliatory. He had recently argued in his newspaper column that citizens' freedoms were threatened by some of the myriad security forces that operate with impunity and without legal mandate.

Perhaps ironically, Bol's arrest - the latest of many in his career -underscored the arguments he made in his column in The Citizen, one of the few publications in the southern capital of Juba that regularly criticises the government.

Contentious topics

A year ago, in the run-up to Sudan's first multiparty elections in 24 years, southern reporters said in a statement that working as journalists was like "playing football without rules". Last year, police raided two radio stations that interviewed opposition candidates. A Mexican nun who managed a Catholic station was arrested.

Journalists in Juba have been pushing for years for the government to pass freedom of information laws and laws that protect journalists from intimidation. A day before Bol's arrest, the government pledged to pass the media laws before the south declares independence on July 09.

"The vice president did promise us that the laws would be enacted by July, and we hope that will be happen," said David De Dau, executive director of the Agency for Independent Media in Juba.

But De Dau said is not optimistic. He noted that Sudanese journalists are often discouraged from taking on contentious topics due to the fear of arrest and legal fees - particularly harsh threats, he said, considering that many journalists are not salaried and earn only $15 per story.

"The media situation here is not a free one," he said.

Tom Rhodes of the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists said the importance of a watchdog press in Southern Sudan could not be stressed enough, particularly since one political party dominates the government. He noted the region has never had an independent press.

"Accustomed to 22 years of civil war, politicians and citizens alike will need to understand that journalists with probing questions should not be considered spies or enemies of the state simply for carrying out their profession," he said.

State-building


Bol said the southern government has helped weaken the press. Asked to name a television station that reports independently on government issues, he scoffed.

"There are no independent TV stations," he said. "The government has taken all the best civil society leaders and appointed them as ministers. They have robbed civil society of its leadership and it is the same problem with the media community."

Only 15% of people in Southern Sudan read and write, making trained journalists hard to come by. Reporters willing to risk their lives and livelihoods to write stories exposing government misconduct are even rarer.

The rebel-movement-turned-political-party that heads the southern government is not united in its approach to state-building, governance, and human rights. Bol said not everyone in government wants to stifle a free press. But those who are opposed yield more power.

A reality of Sudan's north-south civil war is that some of the most brutal events occurred when southerners turned on one another. As independence approaches, internal divides are re-emerging. The government has yet to fully assert control over its vast territory.

Media laws

Some seasoned journalists say an inexperienced press corps could further stoke divisions. Reader comments on the news website SudanTribune.com sometimes feature hostile, tribal-based attacks and accusations.

"It's very fragile to the extent that what you say is not seen as the criticism of an institution but it is given an ethnic angle," said Atem Yaak Atem, editor of the weekly paper The Pioneer. "Journalists may abuse freedoms, and on occasions they already have."

Whether the government will pass the media laws before it declares independence in July remains to be seen, but southern officials say they support an open society with an independent press.

"We have been fighting for freedoms and basic human rights for the last so many years when we waged the struggle," Minister of Information Barnaba Marial Benjamin said. "We have been the champions for democratisation."

- SAPA

Read more on:    south sudan  |  media  |  east africa
NEXT ON NEWS24X

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
 

'Zuma's legacy will be judged by Nkandla'

The legacy of President Jacob Zuma is contingent on how he deals with the issue of upgrades to his Nkandla homestead, says Cape Town Archbishop Thabo Makgoba.

 
 

Latest elections multimedia

Why Jack Parow wants you to vote on 7 May
The ad the SABC doesn't want to air
Elections 2014 in one cartoon
This year's election posters
 
Traffic
Lottery
 
  • Thursday Sir Lowry's Pass - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Old Sir Lowrys Pass Road
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Bezweni Road
  • Thursday Cape Town - 05:35 AM
    Road name: Buitengracht Street
    TRAFFIC LIGHTS not working at Waterkant Street
 
More traffic reports...
 

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Escape winter, head to Mauritius

Escape winter by spending 7 nights in Mauritius' tropical bliss from R13 215 per person sharing. Includes return flights, airport transfers and accommodation. Book now!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

Get many eggs in one basket!

Gaming bundles: 2 Super Hits games for R99, 3 Disney games for R99 and more + exclusive accessory bundles only available on kalahari.com. While stocks last. Shop now!

25% off bestselling books!

The Real Meal Revolution by Tim Noakes, Jeffrey Archer’s Be Careful What You Wish for, Man’s Search for Meaning by Victor E. Frank and many more titles. Shop now!

Up to 25% off electronics

Buy top electronics and save up to 25%. Such as kalahari.com’s 1# selling product the gobii eReader, Patriot X Porter flash drive, Asus Nexus 7” 3G tablet, Samsung Galaxy SIII, Lenovo G580 Notebook and many more. Shop now!

DStv HD PVR Decoder now R949

The DStv HD PVR Decoder has further revolutionised the television experience with lifelike viewing, sharper images, more vibrant colours and precision picture quality. Now R949, save R550. Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now!

Up to 30% off appliances & homeware

Save up to 30% on appliances and homeware this Easter! Offer valid while stocks last. Shop now.

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

BlackBerry Curve 8520

Wi-Fi enabled With the BlackBerry Curve 8520 connect to your home...

From R1100.00

I'm shopping for:

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

Self-indulgence may be strong today. You may want to enjoy yourself to the fullest and share it with those that make you feel...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.