Freedom of the Press

South Sudan

South Sudan

Freedom of the Press 2014

2014 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

62

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

29

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

17

Status change explanation: South Sudan’s status declined from Partly Free to Not Free due to an increase in attacks on journalists in the course of covering the news, as well as a rise in threats and arbitrary detentions by security officials. These types of incidents spiked after a rift between President Salva Kiir and his former vice president, Riek Machar, led to a violent political and ethnic conflict in mid-December.


The transitional constitution guarantees press freedom under Article 32 and calls for all levels of government to uphold this principle. However, three media bills introduced in 2007 were still awaiting presidential assent at the end of 2013, leaving journalists without comprehensive legal protections and the media sector without a regulatory framework. The bills were designed to facilitate access to information, set up a public broadcaster, and establish a press ombudsman. While the Right of Access to Information Bill and the South Sudan Public Broadcasting Corporation Bill have been praised by press freedom groups as commendable efforts to promote transparency and convert the state-owned South Sudan Radio and Television—a mouthpiece of the government—into a true public-service broadcaster, the Media Authority Bill has been criticized for allowing too much executive control. The draft law, which would establish statutory regulation of the press, empowers the president to appoint the members of the regulator’s board, and members could be removed through a majority vote by the parliament. The lower house of parliament passed the three bills in June and July 2013; in September they were considered by the upper house, and then sent to the president. President Salva Kiir returned the bills to the legislature with recommendations in October. In December the lower house passed revised versions, but the bills awaited the president’s signature at year’s end.

It is relatively easy to obtain accreditation and licenses to work as a journalist in South Sudan. Although there is no official censorship, journalists have no effective legal protection from harassment by state officials, and many self-censor to avoid reprisals for their reporting. Legal measures were rarely used against the press in 2013. Instead, security forces resorted to extrajudicial detentions, intimidation, and physical attacks to silence media criticism, especially when the civil conflict flared late in the year. In May, police arrested Michael Koma, the managing editor of the Juba Monitor, for publishing an article that allegedly defamed the deputy security minister. Koma was held for four days, and at one point interrogated for eight hours, before being released.

Throughout 2013, security personnel physically assaulted and arbitrarily detained journalists at rates not seen since the country’s independence in July 2011. Security forces threatened and detained journalists in at least 15 cases—mostly without an arrest warrant—prior to the political violence that erupted in mid-December 2013, when Kiir accused Riek Machar, whom he had dismissed as vice president in July, of an attempted coup. In January 2013 in the town of Wau, the state capital of Western Bahr el-Ghazal, authorities arrested seven journalists without charge over their coverage of local protests. The demonstrations had broken out after the government announced plans to transfer the seat of local authority from Wau to a nearby town, which some locals feared would marginalize certain ethnic groups. The previous month, at least 10 protesters had died when South Sudanese troops opened fire on demonstrators in Wau, according to media reports. In July, security agents arrested two Ugandan journalists, Justin Dralaze and Hilary Ayesiga, in Juba, accusing them of working without accreditation and filming near a security installation. They were released without charge a few days later, but the material they recorded was confiscated. The security forces prevented most journalists from covering a December 6 press conference held by Machar and other dissident members of the ruling Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM), at which they discussed tensions within the party. The next day authorities confiscated copies of the Juba Monitor and the Arabic-language paper Al-Misr to suppress articles on the press conference. In addition to prompting self-censorship, the pattern of unlawful detentions and threats against the press has led some journalists to flee the country.

The greatest exodus of journalists and attacks on the press occurred in mid-December, after the rift between Kiir and Machar led to politically motivated ethnic violence across the country. Journalists reporting from restive towns such as Bor, Bentiu, and Malakal were compelled to flee or seek shelter at UN camps after they too were targeted for their ethnicity. Foreign journalists were also caught up in the unrest. Security forces arrested Reuters correspondent Carl Odera and freelance photojournalist Ali Ngethi on December 16 and held them without charge or access to food for two nights. In other cases, the conflict destroyed vital equipment or reduced access to resources such as fuel, forcing media houses to close. The Catholic Radio Network’s Malakal-based station, Sout al-Mahaba, took weeks to resume broadcasting after being forced off the air, according to the network’s director. Both sides in the conflict routinely targeted the press for alleged bias, leading the majority of media outlets to self-censor. Soon after the violence broke out, the government ordered radio stations in Juba to stop broadcasting news updates on the fighting and to focus solely on music, according to the Union of Journalists in South Sudan. Foreign-owned stations, including Radio Miraya, Eye Radio, and Bakhita FM, were excluded from the ban.

Print media in South Sudan are burdened with small staffs and budgets, low advertising revenue, and a national illiteracy rate of about 74 percent. Newspapers are largely concentrated in urban areas because of the high cost of transportation and a lack of reliable infrastructure. Newsprint is very expensive, and because the country has only two printing presses, most printing is done in Uganda or Kenya. A number of private dailies and weeklies publish regularly, though individuals within the SPLM own the majority of titles. There is a general lack of diversity of viewpoints, as reporters are either employed by progovernment media owners or fear reprisals from state authorities. Papers allied with the ruling party are favored in terms of winning advertising contracts. Government-owned South Sudan Television is the sole television station operating in the country. Journalists working at the outlet complain of self-censorship and lack of professional integrity among their superiors. Radio remains the main source of news for most citizens, with several dozen stations in operation across the country; however, many remote areas remain outside the reach of FM broadcasts.

There are no reliable statistics regarding internet use in South Sudan during 2013. Penetration is low, as most of the country lacks reliable electricity and infrastructure. However, there are no reports of the government restricting access to or content on the internet, and several professional, critical news sites have emerged, including Sudan Tribune, Sudan Votes, and Gurtong.