— South Sudanese presidential spokesman Ateny Wek Ateny said Monday that government security officials have never brought in journalists for questioning, but occasionally offer them advice.
Speaking days after Information Minister Michael Makuei told VOA that journalists who broadcast or publish interviews with rebels inside South Sudan were committing an offense, Ateny told South Sudan in Focus
host John Tanza by telephone from Juba, "To be honest with you, National Security has never actually questioned any journalists,"
"Because, what I know, all the journalists that are accredited here in South Sudan, whenever they have any problems, the National Security will always call me. I have not received any calls regarding anyone that has been stopped by National Security," he said.
But, he added, some journalists are brought in to National Security offices "to receive an advice because some journalists are very irresponsible and they write very irresponsibly."
Ateny cited the example of an Al Jazeera journalist who early on in the now three-month-old conflict in South Sudan reported that rebel forces were closing in on Juba.
The report, which proved to be untrue, "caused panic", Ateny said, and the Al Jazeera reporter "was asked to leave the country."
Ateny insisted that the government of South Sudan "is not harassing journalists but the journalists are very irresponsible."
"Some media is acting very irresponsibly, like those who are publishing articles written by rebels or those making interviews with rebels who are saying we are going to capture this city or that. These are some of the things that the law will have to deal with them," he said.
He said that freedom of speech, which is guaranteed under South Sudan's constitution, "has limitations."
"We have not yet provided for limitations within our enacted laws and this is what we are working to ensure that the limitations come clearly so that those who are operating in South Sudan look at those limitations. We cannot as a sovereign country... be dictated to by those who want to pass their own agenda," he said.
Listen to extracts from John Tanza's interview with Ateny by clicking on the link below.
Thirteen months ago, South Sudan agreed to be the first country to test drive a United Nations initiative aimed at creating a free and safe environment for media workers.
Several weeks later, veteran journalist Alfred Taban was detained and questioned over an opinion piece published in his paper that was critical of a former state governor.
Days before South Sudan was plunged into violence when fighting erupted in Juba on Dec. 15, Taban and another newspaper editor, Nhial Bol, said security officials seized their newspapers' print runs and brought Nhial in for questioning.
Taban said later he was told that his paper was confiscated "because we had published (coverage of) the press conference held the day before by the First Deputy Chairman of the SPLM, Dr. Riek Machar," at which the former vice president, who was sacked by President Salva Kiir in a government reshuffle in July, was critical of Kiir.
Machar was accused by Kiir of launching an abortive coup in December, plunging South Sudan into months of violence, which continued after a ceasefire was signed on January 23. Machar, who has denied the accusation, fled into hiding when the fighting broke out.