By Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, May 4th 2022
From the theme “Journalism under Digital Siege”, discussions about the digital era’s impact on freedom of expression, the safety of journalists, access to information and privacy, this year’s World Press Freedom Day is in many ways the same for South Sudan, even as some modest progress (improvements) have been observed.
“Whether in the context of COVID-19 or during war and conflict, reliable information is more than necessary: it is vital. Journalists play an essential role in providing this information. They assess, investigate and disseminate facts, ensuring people can make informed decisions. Journalism is therefore a public good, which we must defend and support as such,” Audrey Azoulay, Director-General of UNESCO, said in a message on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day. “We all must do more to address the risks and seize the opportunities of the digital age. On this World Press Freedom Day, I invite Member States, technology companies, the media community, as well as the rest of civil society to come together to develop a new digital configuration – one that protects both journalism and journalists.”
South Sudan and this Year’s World Press Freedom Day
Some facts remain the same, that I would not like to repeat here about South Sudan and this year’s World Press Freedom Day. Those are regarding my recent publications ranging from systematic threats (physical and digital) that I face (d) in line of my professional journalism and peaceful work, lessons I have shared publicly, including in my brief talk about my book Freedom of Expression and Media Laws in South Sudan. Also regarding how some inadequacies leave many issues in the hands of groups in government and outside government (state and non state actors) to pursue ulterior motives rather than protection, promotion of public interest, human rights, journalists and press freedoms, and fighting corruption. As well as the issue of incompetence among several journalists and media leaders, and lack of a reasonable number of professional associations to heal that.
Meanwhile, according to Radio Tamazuj, Oyet Patrick the President of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan UJOSS said in the past year, they have had more than Twenty (20) cases of harassment of journalists .
“We were able to carry out interventions. For example, for journalists who were arrested and detained by National Security, we managed to talk to the officials there.
One of the reasons why sometimes peoples’ rights are violated is that the information given to security operatives is false so you find that they have acted on one-sided information. The other side has not been listened to and even when somebody is arrested he has not been given a fair hearing at the facility where they are detained,” Oyet said, “We had several individual cases where one was arrested, detained, letters left summoning a person for questioning. Sometimes they are forced to apologize even when we feel that they did not commit any offense. So, we have had a lot of cases. I am happy to say as for now no journalist is detained according to our records.”
South Sudan and The World Press Freedom Index, published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF)
In the latest Reporters Without Borders (RSF) World Press Freedom Index published yesterday, South Sudan ranked 128 out of 180 Countries. Though on their website RSF says “Indicators not available because the calculations method was changed in 2022” and though some see the ranking 128 out of 180 Countries as better than South Sudan ranking of 139 out of 180 Countries in 2021, comparisons in terms of score is that South Sudan’s score this year is just 47.06, compared to the 54.22 in the year 2021.
RSF also maintains on its website, and that true, that “Freedom of the press is extremely precarious in South Sudan, where journalists work under constant threat and intimidation, and where censorship is ever-present.”
Further and relevant here, RFS writes, “The 2022 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, which assesses the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories, highlights the disastrous effects of news and information chaos – the effects of a globalised and unregulated online information space that encourages fake news and propaganda.
“Within democratic societies, divisions are growing as a result of the spread of opinion media following the “Fox News model” and the spread of disinformation circuits that are amplified by the way social media functions. At the international level, democracies are being weakened by the asymmetry between open societies and despotic regimes that control their media and online platforms while waging propaganda wars against democracies. Polarisation on these two levels is fuelling increased tension.
“Working with a committee of seven experts from the academic and media sectors, RSF developed a new methodology to compile the 20th World Press Freedom Index.
“The new methodology defines press freedom as “the effective possibility for journalists, as individuals and as groups, to select, produce and disseminate news and information in the public interest, independently from political, economic, legal and social interference, and without threats to their physical and mental safety. In order to reflect press freedom’s complexity, five new indicators are now used to compile the Index: the political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context, and security.”
Quotes related to South Sudan and World Press Freedom Day:
“WorldPressFreedomDay. We pay tribute to the South-Sudanese journalists and reiterate the importance of free and independent media as a cornerstone of an open and democratic society. It supports transparency, accountability & exchange of views, which is so crucial in #SouthSudan,” the Delegation of the European Union to South Sudan said in a tweet.
“The importance of media freedom cannot be overemphasized. It is the lifeblood that keeps democracies operating vibrantly. Government should play their part by guaranteeing free access to information and not interfering with journalists’ reporting,” Chargé d’Affaires, David Renz, United States Embassy, Juba, South Sudan, said “I urge all sectors of society to support the nation’s media organizations in their struggles against censorship, intimidation, unlawful arrests, and extralegal suspension of independent radio stations.”
Indeed, a lot need to to be done, in promoting rights of journalists, freedom of expression and media freedoms, also considering the South Sudan situation.
Roger Alfred Yoron Modi, a South Sudanese journalist, is the author of the book Freedom of Expression and Media Laws in South Sudan. He is also the Producer and Host of The Weekly Review: Making Sense of Relevant Topics and News. For more, keep in touch with this his website rogeryoronmodi.com