CEPO's Edmund Yakani. (File photo)

CEPO calls for urgent support for media in South Sudan

A leading civil society outfit, the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), has pressed for exigent funding for independent media in South Sudan ahead of elections slated for December 2024.

A leading civil society outfit, the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization (CEPO), has pressed for exigent funding for independent media in South Sudan ahead of elections slated for December 2024.

According to a press statement on Tuesday which was extended to Radio Tamazuj, CEPO said the role of the media in South Sudan is critical in the current period as the country is heading towards the end of the political transitional period which will culminate in elections.

“A faster shift of political trends towards political dilemma and confrontation among the political parties in South Sudan on their road to the end of the political transitional period is being witnessed,” the statement read in part. “Here is where the proactive and effective role of the media is needed, but now, the funding towards media is shrinking and this means citizens’ capacity of influencing political elites and leaders is also shrinking.”

CEPO Executive Director Edmund Yakani stated that the trend of shrinking funding for the independent media in South Sudan is a great threat and risk to the growth of democracy, transparency, and accountability.

“Good friends of South Sudan and people of goodwill should act on the provision of funding for the media in South Sudan at the current moment. In the past months, CEPO observed a sharp drop down of journalists from various media houses due to lack of funding,” he stressed. “This development is disturbing and a risk for the media family in South Sudan when the country is expected to hold elections in December 2024.”

Yakani added: “Funding the media is critical and highly required in South Sudan and CEPO is urging donors to sincerely help in providing funds for the media sector in South Sudan.”

He said the media is the only platform for citizens to exercise freedom of expression and opinion and to put the government to task to actualize good governance, democracy, respect for human rights, and delivery of social services.

According to Yakani, CEPO will hold a conference to mobilize donors to fund the media this April in Juba.

“The conference will focus on urging donor help in funding media houses in South Sudan to strengthen effective and proactive citizens’ engagement on ending the political transitional process in South Sudan,” the CEPO boss concluded.

The media landscape in South Sudan is characterized by repressive strategies by the government which still censors journalists and citizens with critical views of the régime, despite progressive media and broadcast legislation being signed into law in 2013.

Even before the outbreak of conflict in 2013, South Sudan ranked high among countries with a harsh environment for journalists and curtailed freedom of expression and free press (Freedom House 2019). The National Security Service employs a heavy-handed approach and violent tactics including arrests, torture, punitive laws, and censorship.

According to Media Landscapes, Open violence against journalists only worsened as the war continued. At least 10 journalists were killed in South Sudan between 2014 and 2016 while others remained under arrest without charge. Furthermore, the continued sporadic fighting among various warring factions hindered access to many parts of the country, causing a sharp drop in mass media circulation which has in effect locked out a majority of South Sudanese from access to news and information.

Media are heavily controlled by government authorities. The public broadcaster, South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC), operates a chain of radio stations and a television which have since been used by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) Party regime to voice its views and opinions. Government officials openly warn journalists and media organizations from reporting the views of the opposition parties. Any attempt to attain critical or balanced reporting is met with threats, arrests, and shutdowns. A few private media institutions operate from the capital, Juba, but they have had to practice self-censorship or face shutdown. Consequently, many South Sudanese journalists have been forced to flee the country or quit the journalism practice.

However, there are a few independent media houses like Radio Tamazuj, Sudans Post, South Sudan News Agency, and Sudan Tribune.

South Sudan parliament passed a media bill in 2016 that introduced changes including establishing South Sudan media authority and State-owned South Sudan Television change to South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC). At its inception, the media bill was hailed as a landmark boost for the country’s media but it was soon criticized for failing to yield desired changes by the media and civil society groups. New media legislation that meets international standards has been passed but is mostly not adhered to. Yet, freedom of expression is still not guaranteed as provided by the Transitional Constitution, Media Landscapes noted.

The media in South Sudan hardly makes money from advertisement or circulation and heavily relies on donor funding.

With the elections scheduled for the end of the year, the media must be empowered to inform the population about the polls, participate in elections, civic and voter education, create a platform, ensure pluralism and equality, and monitor election transparency, and highlight breaches among other roles.