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Economic crisis crippling South Sudan’s print media

By David Mono Danga

South Sudan had a vibrant print media when it separated from Sudan in 2011 with about 35 newspapers and 6 magazines in publication.

Today, the industry has only five newspapers in circulation, of which only 3 English dailies. Most newspaper publishers trying to establish a foothold in the country do not last long enough to celebrate their first anniversary.

Several newspaper owners blame the country’s economic crisis for their downfall. Charles Rehan, founder of the then Juba Post, told said his paper did not survive more than two years because of a lack of printing materials.

“We don’t have print in Juba to print the newspapers. We print newspapers in Khartoum and when South Sudan separated from Khartoum, we went to print in Uganda.”

He added that when newspapers are printed he foreign countries, the paper would arrive behind schedule.

“This affected Juba Post’s economic growth,” Rehan explained.

He said running newspapers is not as easy as running other businesses since it requires professional journalists who ask questions, investigate wrongdoing, and force government officials to address the problems facing the country.

“If there is something going wrong the journalists will say ‘this is wrong, this is the right direction.’ But without newspapers, the country cannot develop at all,” Rehan added.

Other businessmen like Alison Ismail, the Chief Executive Officer of the Star Tribune, said the hard, economic times in South Sudan forced him to close his newspaper last year.

“Nothing will make me to jeopardize or put myself at risk of doing business when I am going to lose every day,” Ismail declared, saying he will only reopen his paper after the economy picks up.

A handful of newspapers have managed to stay alive though. Anna Nimiriano, the Editor–In–Chief of the Juba Monitor, said her paper is surviving these days, but just barely.

“What is helping us is advertisement and sales,” Nimiriano revealed.

“If we follow the footsteps of others, there will be no print media in South Suddan, she added.

Despite all the setbacks, Nimiriano is hopeful that. “If there is peace everything will be stable.”

She said repeated threats, harassment, and intimidation of media practitioners by security operatives has forced some journalists to leave their work and seek safety in neighboring countries, making the print weaker.

The magazine business is even worse noted Thomas Manase, the C.E.O of Brisker Magazine, who believes poor reading culture among the youths and citizens, in general, limits the growth of print media across the country.

“In South Sudan, young people don’t like to pick up stuff to read and be informed,” Manase told Juba Monitor, adding that even businesses don’t value advertising.

“This has really affected our sales,” Manase said.

Brisker stopped printing after publishing just four issues. It can now be found online.

Like other media managers, Manase said the cost of printing newspapers and magazines is extremely high in South Sudan.

Irene Ayaa, the Media Development Officer at the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), reiterated that poor management of media outs and low payment of journalists also contributes to the ruin in the print media.

She said many reporters and editors have abandoned journalism for better paying careers with non-governmental organizations (NGOs) as a result.

“The salaries that they are getting is not motivating them to the standard that they have in terms of training,” Ayaa added, noting that since the pay is so low, it’s not uncommon for journalists to accept bribes inform of money for transportation or lunch, which she believes can affect a journalist’s objectivity.

Oliver Modi, head of the Union of Journalists in South Sudan (UJOSS), thinks many print media operators in South Sudan fail due to bad business management.

He said most newspaper owners don’t do market research before launching their operation.

They don’t have a strategic plan and proper budget to sustain their newspapers,” Modi shrieked in frustration.

At the same time, Modi admits the union has failed to meet its mandate of fighting for press freedoms, saying that mandate has been eclipsed by trying to safeguard journalists’ safety.

But Modi says his group has created some protections for journalists, including the Collective Bargaining Agreement, a document that enables media companies and UJOSS to fight for the welfare of journalists in the country.

He said if an employer denies journalists those rights stipulated in the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the Union of Journalists of South Sudan will come in and use the legal procedures to question media employer.

“We will bring you (the media owner) to answer why you are using these journalists without giving them the necessary needs that they deserve. For example, the journalists may want to go for leave you don’t give that leave, the journalists may want fair wages you don’t pay fair wages, you give feet-nuts that will not meet the demands and needs of the journalist,” Modi ranted.

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