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Media: Access to Information Is Tough in South Sudan

FILE - "Eye Radio" journalists work at their desks in Juba, South Sudan, March 2, 2019.

Audiences in South Sudan are keen to hear news about the peace agreement and reforms, but journalists say it can be tough getting information from government agencies.

Koang Pal Chang, chair of the National Editors’ Forum, said access to information can be a problem for journalists who want to dig deeper on public interest stories.

Moyiga Nduru, commissioner for access to information, denies the government is withholding information. He said those who have problems accessing public sector or government records can come to the commission and file a complaint.

“We deal with records. If they [the government] don’t want to, then you come and complain, fill a form and then we write to the government officials,” Nduru said.

Media outlets say audiences are looking for more in-depth news on policy and security.

FILE - A security guard sits listening to the radio while at work at the "Eye Radio" station premises in Juba, South Sudan, March 2, 2019.
FILE - A security guard sits listening to the radio while at work at the "Eye Radio" station premises in Juba, South Sudan, March 2, 2019.

Like many in South Sudan, Panchol Yohana, 55, turns to radio for credible news and information. “I listen to political programs. And I have liked to have a radio since I was a young boy in school,” Yohana told VOA. “When a piece of information is being circulated in the neighborhood and not coming from the radio, I don’t consider it because the radio has not covered it.”

Yohana said news on the implementation of the 2018 peace agreement on the Resolution of Conflict in South Sudan is among the topics he regularly follows.

Other times, he listens to the radio to relieve stress.

“When I don’t listen to the radio, I don’t feel happy mentally. But when the radio is beside me, I focus on the program and that cleanses my mind. I constantly listen to it until I forget the stress that was in my mind,” Yohana said.

The peace deal and a unity government were formed to try to end violence and a civil war that lasted 5½ years in South Sudan. The war is estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands of people and displaced millions from the region, according to the Council on Foreign Relations’ Global Conflict Tracker.

Jacob Alier, another radio listener in Juba, said he sometimes notices an information gap on vital national issues when listening to different radio stations.

“We are missing of a lot of things. A lot of citizens in Jonglei state here, people are not aware,” Alier said, referring to provisions in the peace agreement.

“If people are allowed to play their role, they can give us a lot of information,” he added.

Some media outlets said they exert significant effort to provide credible information to their audiences.

Pal Chang, who also is the program manager at Eye Radio, said his station tends to focus on items that he thinks listeners in Juba are interested in, but it can be hard to get the information.

“We are not getting enough information regarding the reforms, for example,” Pal Chang said. "What is happening when it comes to the reforms? Because the peace agreement talks about reforms. Reforms in [the] financial sector, in [the] economic sector, in governance. These things, nobody is talking about, and when you ask, nobody wants to give you information.”

Japheth Ogila, the editor-in-chief of City Review, said he has noticed an increase in interest when the Juba-based newspaper covers security issues.

“We realized that most readers in South Sudan buy papers when our headline talks about things to do with security or things to do with humanitarian issues like hunger or floods,” Ogila said.

South Sudan ranks 139th out of 180 countries, where 1 is freest, on the global press freedom index.

Media watchdog Reporters Without Borders said the country’s media outlets are blocked from covering issues related to conflict, and that harassment, arbitrary detention and intimidation also are problematic for journalists.

Police last month briefly detained eight journalists who were at Parliament for a press conference on claims of intimidation against media and opposition politicians, according to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists. Two of those detained journalists contribute to VOA.

Security services at the time said the briefing was illegal.

This story originated in VOA’s English to Africa Service.