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South Sudan Conflict Brings Media Crackdown, Journalists Say

  • Mugume Davis Rwakaringi

A montage of the Juba Monitor newspaper and an excerpt from the UN Plan for the Safety of Journalists. Four print runs of the Juba Monitor have been seized since South Sudan erupted in violence in December.

A montage of the Juba Monitor newspaper and an excerpt from the UN Plan for the Safety of Journalists. Four print runs of the Juba Monitor have been seized since South Sudan erupted in violence in December.

In October, Daniel Majak Kuac, a reporter with the National Mirror newspaper in Juba, was getting ready to go out on assignment. Majak Kuac was working on a story about the demolition of makeshift structures in the South Sudanese capital.

His first step was to interview some officials. Next, he was going to interview people who were affected by the demolition. But before Majak Kuac could complete his work, he was arrested. The police confiscated his recorder and his camera and questioned him for three hours.

“'Why did you go and interview the women, the victims of demolition?' Because that was essential - it was very important for the consumption of the readership," Majac Kuac recounts.

By interfering with his work, security officials prevented him from telling both sides of the demolition story, Majac Kuac says.


Elamu Denis Ejuru, who works for The Corporate newspaper in Juba, says that, despite media laws that are supposed to protect reporters and give them easier access to information, journalists are censoring their own work, including stories on critical issues, such as the conflict.

“We don’t feel free as journalists because we feel the state is everywhere and we cannot express ourselves freely," he said.

He cited, as an example, when journalists write about what he called "issues of ethnicity." Stories about ethnicity "are taken as inciting tribes against other tribes,” he said.

Majac Kuac says the authorities need to stop looking at journalists as their rivals or enemies. They need to understand that journalists and a free media play a role in nation-building.

Sources afraid to talk

Rachel Achol, a reporter with The Citizen newspaper, says there were some limits on free speech in South Sudan before the conflict, but the crisis has made the situation worse.

Sources don't want to talk because they fear they will run into problems with the authorities if they are identified in the media, she says.

It's not only journalists who are feeling the impact that a year of conflict is having on their work.

Several newspapers, including The Citizen and The Juba Monitor, have had print-runs confiscated since the fighting began, and radio stations have been silenced after airing reports that did not sit well with the government.

Newspapers, radio stations shut down

Kaunde David James, says the radio station he works at as a news programmer, City FM, was forced to stop broadcasting news programs when the conflict began.

“We were working with text messages and they had to be filtered before you speak them on air," he said.

"Later on, there was the issue of not reporting on the rebel side, and later the shutdown of Bakhita radio,” he said.

Catholic church-run Bakhita Radio was closed for about a month in August after airing a report that, the government said, misinformed the public. Bakhita quoted rebel sources in a story about renewed fighting in Unity state. The government said that giving the rebels' side made it appear that government forces had started the fighting.

South Sudanese Information Minister Michael Makuei has threatened to prosecute journalists who report the views of rebels. He called journalists who do so "rebels and agitators."

In August, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) said it knew of " least 10 cases -- and there are probably many more -- where journalists are harassed or threatened with arrest for their reporting."

"It goes along with this notion that some of the authorities want journalists not to cover the conflict or at least cover only their side of the conflict," CPJ East Africa representative, Tom Rhodes, said.

Foreign Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin told South Sudan in Focus last week that the new media laws provide journalists with all the protection they need. He said if any journalist is wronged, they simply have to take their case to the courts.

Karin Zeitvogel contributed to this report.

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