Presentation on Media Laws in South Sudan

"We in the media are committed to seeing that our country become a respectable and peaceful member of Our Region, Our Continent and among Progressive nations of the world.''




 Solidarity Meeting for Support of Good Media Laws in South Sudan

 Home and Away, Juba, South Sudan, November 6th 2012

 By Jacob J. Akol

(AMDISS Chairman)

 Your Excellencies, Honourable Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

You are warmly welcome to what we have billed as “Solidarity Meeting for Support of Good MediLaws in South Sudan”.

By pure coincidence, today is also the elections day for the most powerful nation on earth, the United States of America.  Many American South Sudanese are already reporting having exercised their democratic rights to vote in advance.  

South Sudanese at home with radios or televisions will, like the rest of the world, stay up all night to know who has become the President of the United States of America. This is real liberal democracy at work, a very close contest: we will not know the winner until sometime on Wednesday.

Ladies and gentlemen:

It is also important to note that today’s date was fixed long before the Information Committee of the South Sudanese National Assembly announced November 1st  - 3rd as the days for Public Hearing of the Draft Legislation Bills.

On the first day of the public hearing, I pointed out in my opening summary that these three draft media legislations have the potential of  becoming “Good Media Laws” or “Bad Media Laws”

I proceeded to give a simple definition of what we in AMDISS would consider as “Good Media Laws”, and that is that Good Media Laws should enable the media to effectively serve the Public with: 

U1.Unbiased Information

2.     Unbiased Education and

3.     Unbiased Entertainment

The opposite would be exactly true for Bad Media Laws.

 Honourble Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

When in 2007 AMDISS and Partners were preparing to hand over the initial draft media bills to the government through the Council of Ministers, a lady who was working for Bearing Point asked a question which we considered then to be a telling question:

She asked: “If you were given a choice between freedom of your country and freedom of the press, what would you chose?”

I told her the two were not interchangeable, that we needed both.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

When we were discussing these draft media bills in the Public Hearing last week, we heard over and over again that the media laws may conflict with the pending Security Laws. I had the impression that the same old question was being presented in different colours: I felt like we were being asked to chose between Freedom of the Press and National Security; if so, my answer would remain the same: we need both National Security and Freedom of the Press, both within the law of course.

The question is: What constitutes “National Security” today in South Sudan? What are the parameters? When, for instance, a producer of a popular radio program is summoned by senior security officers and ordered to close down the program, because opinions being expressed by callers are seen as a threat to the national security, the questions which come to mind are: who in this case is a threat to the national security: the person who is expressing his or her opinion publicly or the person who wants to censor public discussion on issues?

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen:

One other related issue, which came up during our discussions, is the general misunderstanding being attached to the term “Media Diversity”: While we all appeared to agree that South Sudan needs diversity in the media, we seemed not to agree on what it is. We may have 1,000 radio stations, 1,000 newspapers or 1,000 television stations; but, if they all deal with issues in the same way, there would be no diversity in the media.  

Diversity means that a section of the media may concentrate in reporting corrective scandals while others may focus on other issues. And yes, I mean scandals. Scandals are not necessarily lies or unimportant to the public. For example: it would be scandalous if our Vice President, or Honourable Speaker or any of our Ministers were in the habit of being drank publicly, or in the habit of dating schools girls, or letting lose their body-guards to harass and terrorize members of the public or keep a reckless driver! Thank goodness I am not aware of any of our leaders in this room who are in the habit of such scandalous activities.

But if they were, would that be classified as private matters and of no concern to the general public, and therefore need not be reported? Would reporting such scandals be classified as matters of National Security in South Sudan?    

 Honourable Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen:

One important form of expression that has become notorious and at times considered by our security agents as encroaching on “National Security in South Sudan” is cartoon caricatures.  Some of you might have noticed that some popular East African publications have disappeared from our market. The reason, I was told, is because of a cartoon comparing our President with the late Dr. John Garang de Mabior, with a caption describing President Kiir as not fitting into the large chose of John Garang. I have looked for such cartoon but have not been able to find it; but I came upon others.

Cartoon caricatures are never flattering and if you are a notable public leader, you should expect to be treated to one sooner or latter. And Cartoon caricatures are never flattering but they are indispensable tools of print media.

Honourable Guests:

I have to cite theses few example because the East African media is located in our region and a community we have applied to join: The East African Community:

When President Museveni of Uganda was perceived as grooming his son to take over from him, a cartoonist captured in what he called “The Evolution of Yowri Museveni” as a baby, a child, a school boy, a revolutionary, a fully grown Banyankoli Bull with horns on his head, growing old and re-emerging again in the guise of his son following his footstep to the State House. 

When President Mwai Kibaki of Kenya appeared to be softening his stand on taking those accused of the 2007 elections violence to The Hague, a cartoonist thought he would look nice with the word IMPUNITY replacing his teeth.

When President Bashir and President Kiir quarreled over the oil and the pipeline was closed down, a cartoonist thought these two presidents were caught up in a net of pipelines and had turned the oil into a weapon of war.

This is all part of diversity in the media. Cartoonists have the ability to serve the public with thought-provoking information, education and entertainment in a small square.

Your Excellencies, Honourable Guests:

We have invited you here today because all your countries are much older than our country. We also know that you wish the young Republic of South Sudan well. We also know our African guests would not want South Sudan to make the same mistakes they have made in the last fifty years of African independence, particularly with regards to giving liberties to their citizens with tragic results of coups and counter coups, rebellion and instability, disease, famine and general underdevelopment.

Your Excellencies:

We know you are friends of South Sudan and would want to see us embrace the values that have made your nations peaceful and developed. We need to be advised by you and encouraged to do the right thing: Enact Good Media Laws which will enable the media to serve the people of South Sudan with:

Unbiased Information

Unbiased Education and

Unbiased Entertainment

We in the media are committed to seeing that our country become a respectable and peaceful member of:

Our Region, Our Continent and among  Progressive nations of the world

Thank you very much!

Jacob J. Akol

(Chairman, AMDISS)







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