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S. Sudan joins world Press Freedom celebration

By Bullen Bala Alexander

South Sudanese has joined the world PressFreedom Day celebration as numbers of international institutions and individuals commended on the role of free press play in democratic society.

This year’s World Press Freedom Day will be held under the theme “Information as a Public Good and needs public supportserves as a call to affirm the important of cherishing information as a public, and exploring what can be done in the production, distribution and reception of content to strengthen journalism, and to advance transparency and empowerment while leaving no one behind.

The theme is of urgent relevance to all across the world, in South Sudan, as people joined the world in celebration, U.S. Embassy in Juba Chargé d’Affaires. Larry E. André, Jrcommended thework well done by journalists around the world and encouraged them to continue with professionalism and commitment to excellence.

“On World Press Freedom Day, we recognize the key role that a free press plays in democracy.  We honor journalists around the world for their work.  Journalists help to ensure that citizens are informed and exposed to diverse perspectives on the issues,”E. André, Jr said.

The statement continued that well-informed citizens make countries stronger.  Here in South Sudan, I was very pleased to see last month that local journalists David Mono Danga and Waakhe Simon Wudu won separate international awards for excellence in reporting.  

“I praise them for their professionalism and commitment to excellence.  I also applaud all media professionals in South Sudan who pursue their noble career honorably, often under difficult conditions.” 

According to U.S Embassy Chargé d’Affaires E. André, Jr, world Press Freedom Day is an important opportunity to point out the abuses that are perpetrated against journalists, and to recommit to protect the media community.  Last month Reporters Without Borders released the 2021 World Press Freedom Index.  

“As the U.S. government’s most recent Human Rights Report notes, security forces commonly intimidate, harass, beat up, detain, and imprison journalists; confiscate equipment; and restrict journalists’ movements.  If South Sudan aspires to achieve the status of a democratic country, then these abuses must stop.”

South Sudan dropped one spot to a ranking of 139 out of 180 countries.  The report states that journalists have faced harassment, arbitrary detention, torture, and even death in instances where they did not practice self-censorship.  

He said when journalists are harassed and threatened, they naturally become intimidated and afraid to report certain information.  journalists end up practicing self-censorship.  Democracy suffers as a result, as citizens lack access to trustworthy information.  

The U.S Embassy further mentioned that there were more obvious forms of censorship, such as government authorities removing articles from newspapers right before they go to print.  

“We call on the South Sudanese government to do everything in its power to ensure that journalists feel protected and supported in their crucial mission of getting accurate information to the people.”

Just as the government has responsibilities related to freedom of information, journalists have important responsibilities related to ethics and accurate information.  Journalists should always ensure that their reporting is fair, ethical, and factual.  

That is a solemn responsibility they have to their country’s citizens.  I applaud the positive step taken by the Media Authority last week in releasing the Code of Conduct for the Practice of Journalism in South Sudan under the theme “Uphold Professional and Responsible Journalism in South Sudan.”  

This Code of Conduct highlights that journalists must take responsibility for the accuracy of their work, and verify information before publication in the interest of professionalism and service to the public.

The United States is fully committed to supporting the media community in South Sudan.  We will continue to advocate for press freedom.  For example, through the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID), the United States supports several South Sudanese radio stations and media institutions.  

We invest in the professional development of media professionals to report on issues in an accurate and balanced way.  We support aspiring media professionals, including young journalists.

Ultimately though, it takes all of us working together to ensure that journalists in South Sudan are supported and freedom of the press is respected.  The government needs to protect journalists and end the harassment, intimidation, and detainment of journalists.  

The government should facilitate the work of journalism professionals, not censoring or restricting them.  Citizens should speak out at every opportunity to advocate for their constitutional right of access to information. 

Journalists must adhere to the highest standards of conduct and ethics, which will help them gain important support from those around them.  The international community must do everything we can to continue to provide much-needed support to the media. 

Today, on World Press Freedom Day, let us all recommit to this noble cause, so that we can strengthen democracy in South Sudan.

In related message ahead of World press Freedom Day celebration, the British Embassy in Juba also joint the rest in celebrating the day.

The theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day is “Information as a Public Good.”  It serves as a call for countries to improve transparency, and to ensure that citizens have access to reliable information.  

 “On this day, we wish to reaffirm that freedom of expression in all its forms is a fundamental freedom that all Governments have a duty to protect.”

The United Kingdom is deeply committed to media freedom, and to championing democracy and human rights around the world.

In South Sudan, the media has a critical role holding the parties accountable for commitments made in the peace agreement, countering misinformation on Covid-19 and ensuring the public get access to accurate reporting.

The United Kingdom recognizes and applauds the bravery and perseverance of journalists operating in South Sudan who often face serious challenges such as censorship, harassment and arrest. Others await justice for crimes committed against them. 

Even under such conditions, South Sudanese journalists excel. David Mono Danga and Waakhe Simon Wudu both report for Voice of America’s South Sudan in Focus programme and are both active members of Association of Media Development in South Sudan.

Mono Danga is among 12 regional journalists to have jointly won third prize in the 2020 Fetisov Journalism Awards in Switzerland, and Waakhe Simon Wudu received the Nile Basin award. Mary Ajith Goch, the chair of AMDISS, was a runner-up in the UK and Canada’s inaugural Media Freedom Award in 2020.

South Sudan is clearly blessed with many talented journalists. The work of South Sudan’s intrepid journalists can contribute to South Sudan’s growth into a prosperous nation. That talent, just like South Sudan’s other natural resources, should not be squandered.

We believe that people must be able to discuss and debate issues freely. Independent media is essential to a functioning society leading to greater stability and prosperity. Therefore, media freedom is vital to open societies and journalists must be able to investigate and report without undue interference.

Given the importance of media freedom, the United Kingdom works with the Media Development Agency and the Government of the Republic of South Sudan and media organizations to enhance media development.

The British Embassy works closely with AMDISS to provide training to journalists across South Sudan and later this year, a South Sudanese journalist will take up the inaugural Chevening Africa Media Freedom Fellowship.

The other messages were from South Sudan Media stakeholders and partners which include UNESCO, AMDISS, Radio One all joined the celebration.

South Sudan has this year fallen from 138th to 139th in the Reporters Without Borders annual Press Freedom Index, which underlines that there is much more work for us all, including the Government of the Republic of South Sudan, to do, in order to make South Sudan a safe place for journalists to operate freely.

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