Promoting Journalists Safety, Building an Effective Safety Mechanism in South Sudan

By Flora Henry Jembi Ali,
Helsinki, Finland

The media industry in South Sudan has been operating in a legal vacuum since 2005 after it seceded from Sudan on July 9, 2011. Three media bills, prepared by the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) with support from International media development partners, was tabled before the country’s parliament since 2007.

The bills, Right of Access to Information, Media Authority and Broadcasting Corporation, became law after the President’s signature in 2013.

The three media bodies, Information Commission, Media Authority, which is now the country’s media regulatory body, and Broadcasting Corporation, were established by the Media Acts and board members were appointed in 2015. But due to financial constraints, the three institutions are not fully functional yet.

The Authority has a mandate to regulate media and oversee its development. Currently, the body has not yet secured an office and it is yet to establish the required institutions including recruitment of Managing Director.

Since then, relations between media and security organs has not been friendly. The Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS), established in 2004 and registered in 2013, has been the sole local media organization with mandate on safety, protection and security and welfare of Journalists in the country.

Over the years, the media experienced seizure of newspapers, closure of media houses, arbitrary arrests and detention of journalists, threats and harassment.

In order to mitigate the strained relations between media and security organs, UJOSS, with support from the International Media Support (IMS), Norwegian Peoples’ AID (NPA) and UNESCO, initiated training for journalists on personal safety, security and protection, and journalists’ code of conduct and professional ethics.

UJOSS also formed media observatory committees with support from UNESCO- IPDC and the government of Sweden, in the then ten states in South Sudan to monitor, document and report abuses and violations of journalists’ rights to the Union’s offices in Juba for coordinated response.

This year, with support from the Open Society Foundation, UJOSS sent two of its members to Kampala, Uganda, for training in safety and protection. Upon their return, the two journalists are now running the Press Freedom Monitoring department of the Union and coordinating with the Media Observatory Committees in the states.

In partnership with AMDISS, UJOSS also initiated a dialogue forum between journalists and security organs. The aim was to reach understanding on the roles of the two institutions. The forum generated over seventeen recommendations.

In order to implement these recommendations, a committee comprising members of local media organizations, national security and ministry of information, was formed. The committee initially met every two weeks to oversee and review the implementation of the recommendations.

Despite all these efforts, the space for freedom of expression and of the press continued to reduce. From late December 2015 to March 2016, there was an upsurge in incidents of threats to journalists’ safety and security. UJOSS recorded over twelve cases. In 2015 alone, seven journalists were killed in line of duty by unknown gunmen.

UJOSS and AMDISS issued a press release to that effect, expressing dismay and concern over the safety of journalists and called on authorities to credibly investigate the crimes and bring perpetrators to justice in order to bring to an end the culture of impunity.

Earlier, UJOSS engaged a consultant to prepare a safety and protection of journalists’ strategy which today serves as the Union’s Safety and Protection Emergency Protocol.

“The Union, if well supported, funded and empowered, could and should serve as the sole keeper of data and records on safety and protection issues. It can be the main vehicle in Safety and Protection, Defense, Litigation Fund in terms of seeking legal protection of journalists and Public Impact Litigation in defense of Freedom of Expression and Media (Press) Freedom and Access (Right) to Information in defense of Public Interest,” partly reads the safety and protection emergency protocol.
 
After the validation and adoption of this document, the Union now serves as the professional watch-dog in the implementation and supervision of journalists’ safety and protection standards and bench-marking including serving as the whistle-blower both within the industry and profession and within the state organs including the Executive, the Judiciary and the Security sector in South Sudan due to its legal and professional mandate and vision as incorporated in its core mandate, mission and vision statement.
 
The Union is now the key drive as it provides national ownership and legitimacy and is the custodian of all issues to do with Safety and Protection of Journalists.
 
All other stake-holders, players, actors and partners, especially international and United Nations agencies provide the supporting cast and services including financial, material and leverage including technical and professional support and assistance as appropriate in a national holistic strategy devoid of duplication of efforts and initiatives.

Based on the protocol, the Union has adopted an intake form to document journalists’ incidents and prepared a criteria for safety and protection support.

Since 2013, the Union has been the focal point for the implementation of the UN Plan of Action and Issues of Impunity, in partnership with UNESCO.

The Union, in partnership with UNESCO also, has been involved in the coordination and organization of World Press Freedom Day celebrations, marking International Day to end impunity for Crimes Committed against Journalists and World Radio Day celebrations at the national level, by engaging civil society organizations, media and legal fraternity, relevant government line ministries, the academia and the general public.  

Such celebrations are often preceded by a one month broadcast of messages, issuing press releases, holding of press conferences and radio talk shows. These celebrations served as platform for media literacy initiatives.

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