Tag : press-freedom
Tag : press-freedom
JUBA – A year since South Sudan gained its independence, journalists and rights activists still express concern about inadequate press freedom. An interview with one of South Sudan’s most outspoken independent journalists and publishers, Nhial Bol.
Q: Mr. Bol, recently Atem Yaak Atem, the Deputy Minister of Information and Broadcasting, said: “One of the important aspects of the struggle was to establish a better society where there is justice, equality and freedom of expression.” Has press freedom improved since independence?
A: If you have observed the cases of journalists who have been beaten, arrested, harassed and humiliated since independence, it is clear that we are heading for the worst. We cannot say that there is press freedom when we do not have a legal instrument or a law that regulates it.
Q: The South Sudanese Information Minister, Barnaba Marial Benjamin, described the media environment in South Sudan as “hostile and dangerous,” due to the absence of the legal framework you mentioned. The media bills have been passed by the National Council of Ministers and await legislation by the National Parliament. Why did the president order the withdrawal of the bills?
Sudanese newspapers need an overhaul to restore credibility by putting a stop to unethical practices.
In the offices of a local newspaper, a reporter was recently overheard speaking into his cell phone loudly enough for everyone in his midst to hear: “I’m not doing the story unless I know how much they’re offering,” he said. Raising his voice, he added, “No sir, I won’t repeat my last mistake; it was too little money, so if they want us to cover this tour they should tell us from the start how much they’ll pay or I won’t go.”
This type of coverage-for-hire is just one illustration of a glaring lack of ethics in Sudanese journalism. The payment for news reports, interviews and opinion columns in local newspapers is no secret. Corruption has become entrenched in everyday reporting to such an extent that it’s now the subject of public debate.
According to a prominent newspaperman who wished to remain anonymous, a large number of publishers and chief editors are behind these unethical practices.
Special interest representatives sometimes target individual journalists directly, away from the management. In the absence of a clear editorial policy on this subject, consent is usually granted to reporters to accept such invitations, even when it’s apparent the resulting articles may well resemble public relations handouts more than factual news articles.
“Newspaper managers basically rent out their reporters to anyone who comes to them, be it a political party, a governmental agency, an institution or a company.” - Anonymous journalist
Chief editors usually sanction such junkets, the source explained, because the newspaper pays nothing to send a journalist into the field. “The result is a rush of reporters into the arms of these parties that cover all their expenses,” he said.
Two documented examples illustrate the
Journalists and rights activists have expressed concern about diminishing press freedom in Sudan.
Reporters attribute their pessimism to what they call a “coup” against public liberties. Chief among their concerns is the press freedom that was stipulated in the 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), whose duration concluded with South Sudan’s independence that took effect on 9 July.
In the starkest example, the National Council for Press and Publications closed down six newspapers (five published in English, one in Arabic), citing a law that prohibits shareholders of foreign origin. Some of the newspapers have affiliations with South Sudanese, whom Khartoum now classifies as foreign citizens.
The suspended publications include the Khartoum Monitor, The Juba Post, the Sudan Tribune, The Advocate, The Democrat and Ajras al-Hurriya. A seventh newspaper, al-Ahdath, was seized by security personnel on the weekend without explanation.
The closures have been heavily criticised by members of the media in Khartoum.
Faisal Mohammed Saleh, a writer and journalist, warns against “further repression and suppression of press freedom,” referring to “an attempted coup” to quash liberties that prevailed during the transitional period of the last six years.
A number of indicators reflect a decline in press freedom at the hands of the ruling National Congress Party (NCP), he said. Foremost among them is a planned amendment to the press law of 2009.
“We hoped the law would include more reforms rather than backing away from them,” he said.
Saleh refers to
The closure of six Sudanese newspapers represents another blow to press freedom, according to media watchdog organisations.
On 27 July, the Sudanese National Council for Press and Publications revoked the license of the daily newspaper Ajras Al-Hurriya.
Only days after South Sudan’s independence, Khartoum authorities froze publications of the Khartoum Monitor, the Juba Post, Sudan Tribune, The Advocate and The Democrat. The reason given was that publishers are required to be Sudanese citizens, and South Sudanese are now considered “foreigners” according to law.
Ajras al-Hurriya (“Bells of Freedom”) had already suspended its daily publication just before South Sudan’s secession because one of the shareholders of the company is a southerner.
The Cairo-based Arabic Network for Human Rights Information said the decision to halt publication of the Sudanese newspapers “has to be reviewed by (Khartoum) authorities.”
Interpretations of the closure range from mere respect of legal regulations to blatant censorship.
According to Al-Obeid Meruh, secretary-general of the Press Council, it has nothing to do with a decision to restrict press freedom. “The 2009 press act does not allow foreigners to be a part of the ownership of newspapers,” he told Agence France-Presse (AFP).
But to a journalist who wished to remain anonymous, that’s too simple an explanation. “It seems the council was not aware of this clause in the press act; now they’ve discovered it after twenty days of suspension,” she said.
“The decision of the council is wrong,” said Nabeel Adeeb, a lawyer. “The council has no right to revoke the license of a newspaper.”
Only when the newspaper has committed any violations does the court have the right to close down a publication, he explained. “The (Press) council is not independent because it had orders.”
Al-Hurriya has been suspended more than 12 times since its first publication.
“The letter to withdraw the license came only after (the council) imposed impossible conditions for re-certification, which confirms the bad faith by the board and the government,” Adeeb said.
All of the dailies shut down have links to South Sudan. Hussein Saad, Ajras Al-Hurriya’s managing director, said the closure of his paper is a purely political move; others call it “racist.”
“It is because the paper is close to the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) and the (Sudanese) opposition,” he told AFP.
[Montréal, Québec, Canada 26°C] Media freedom since southern Sudan’s January referendum has been less than stellar. A few examples of the repression of press freedom since the referendum include:
1) The arrest of The Citizen newspaper, Editor-in_Chief, Nhial Bol for reporting about an attack on him and his driver; and the beating by security forces of one of the newspaper’s journalists for reporting about demolitions at Juba University.
2) The editor of the Juba Post was harassed and the newspaper was confiscated on March 31, 2011.
3) Bhagita Radio was threatened with closure by government officials.
4) Arabic newpapers, Al-Masir and Al-Istiqlal, both produced in the south but printed in the north were prohibited from being distributed in South Sudan.
5) U.N.-backed Miraya FM was warned by authorities to replace its staff or be shut down.
The media landscape in South Sudan is a complex one and Al Jazeera’s The Listening Post, which reports on media issues around the world, recently included a report on media freedom in the new Republic of South Sudan. The 25-minute episode begins with a report on journalist access into Syria. The situation for journalists in South Sudan follows (at 14:28).
At a gathering to mark World Press Freedom Day on 3 May, journalists in Southern Sudan stressed the importance of a free and independent media in a region that will become the world’s newest nation on 9 July.
Oliver Modi, chair of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS), emphasized the media’s critical role in disseminating information throughout the semi-autonomous region after more than two decades of civil war.
But he expressed deep concern over recent attacks on press freedom, including the confiscation of newspapers and recent arrests of reporters.
With senior officials from the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS) in attendance, Modi recounted several incidents that had compromised media independence.
“This year, a journalist from The Citizen newspaper was beaten by security forces as he tried to report on a demolition at Juba University,” Modi said.
He also cited the arrest of Nhial Bol, the daily’s editor-in-chief, for writing about an attack on his driver and reporter.
Separately, the Juba Post‘s editor, Michael Korma, had come under harassment for publishing an article that the government deemed a threat to the country’s security. Editions of the Juba Post were seized by security officials before they could be distributed.
Elsewhere, Juba’s Bakhita Radio and Liberty FM were threatened with closure by Central Equatoria State security officials for reasons Modi called “dubious”.
The event was characterised by
The level of media repression in Southern Sudan does not bode well for the future of an independent press. It is time to pass laws anchoring media freedom in the emerging nation.
Recent developments concerning media clampdowns in Southern Sudan point to a future environment where freedom of expression, especially that of the press, could be threatened.
The chief editors of two Arabic-language newspapers in Southern Sudan, al-Masir and al-Istiqlal (Independence), published a joint report exposing prohibition of the papers’ distribution in Southern Sudan. A few days later, the Juba Post reported the confiscation of its paper in Juba.
Given the current tension in Southern Sudan, challenges to the media in times of transition are understandable. The leadership of a country accustomed to a military system that runs on orders and obedience seldom tolerates constructive criticism and calls for accountability.
But it is also reasonable to expect the leadership, or at least some of its members, to foster human rights and press freedom. Violations committed within the institutional framework should be addressed so they will not be repeated.
The future South Sudan cannot be built on a corrupt basis that limits political freedoms and hides behind purported conspiracies or foreign threats to justify illegal and immoral actions.
Media is an integral pillar of nation building in any democratic society; it is the role of a credible and independent press to point out flaws in the process and hold leadership accountable.
As a cornerstone of communication, a media grounded in solid reporting is a vital, two-way conduit between leadership and the public. It should be a reliable source of information if the aspirations and ambitions of the people are to be fulfilled.
But media laws have been relegated to the back burner for over five years. They have yet to be presented to the parliament for approval. Only when press freedom laws are passed can a strong foundation for the media in Southern Sudan be assured.
With high hopes of creating a vibrant media landscape, journalists set their sights on the establishment of a free and independent press in both Arabic and English. English-language newspapers transferred their operations from Khartoum to Juba.
A short while later, other publications emerged, with two daily Arabic-language newspapers printed in Juba. Due to poor printing conditions there, al-Masir and al-Istiqlal were obliged to publish their editions in Khartoum for distribution in the south.
All of these newspapers function under harsh conditions: poor infrastructure, limited distribution and weak advertising revenues increase their need for support from external sources.
But if neither financial nor technical support can be provided, these publications should, at the very least, be guaranteed the right to contribute to a democratic society without suffering from repression or harassment. The legal provision to safeguard journalists’ rights should be a priority on everyone’s agenda.
Comment written by Faisal Mohamed Saleh
(original article at SudanVotes)