Why independent journalism is crucial in South Sudan

Why independent journalism is crucial in South Sudan

by Joseph Oduha

It has been one of the most encouraging trends of my professional life.

The world – or at least the civilized portion of it – is placing an ever-greater importance on journalism. This world has been devoting more and more resources to fostering vibrant and unfettered media communities. This is being done because the world knows that these communities are key elements – along with vigilant and aware citizens – of robust and development-capable civil societies.

It has been one of the most discouraging developments of my professional life.

Since mid-December, 2013, the state of independent journalism has been steadily deteriorating in South Sudan, and this although few countries in the world so desperately need objective reporting.

Mid-December 2013 was the launch of what has turned out to be a protracted and concerted attack on South Sudan’s media – by the country’s government and institutions responsible for this sector.

This attack has, unfortunately, been highly productive. Large numbers of journalists have quietly left their professions. Others – fearing for their lives – have fled to neighboring countries. A number of media organizations decided to restrict their coverage to supposedly safe topics – and to make sure that their staff had ethnic, cultural and religious backgrounds that are acceptable to the powers that be.

Among the brave rest, those who have resisted this crackdown, a number have been killed. Others have suffered detention or systematic harassment.

Along with the journalists and with the truth itself, prime sufferers from this attack have been the people of South Sudan, who have lost their ways of learning what’s really going on in their country, and their ways of expressing their concerns and wishes. This attack has left our country’s people in a cloud of ignorance and uncertainty.

This cloud has partially lifted in 2018 and in the first part of 2019, in which investigations of illegal and corrupt  practices on the part of the government of South Sudan and its corporate allies were conducted by international organizations and NGOs. These investigations revealed scandalous misappropriations of public funds, horrible environmental practices, and widespread abuses of human and environmental rights.

Rather than helping us in our work, these investigations actually and unfortunately made it even more difficult, as they caused the government to step up its efforts to stifle the truth.

Here are my wishes.

That South Sudan’s journalists, who are so capable and committed, be allowed to do their job.

A job whose pursuit is guaranteed in the constitution of our country.

A pursuit that will benefit each and every one of the 12 million South Sudanese.

Each of whom was promised a free and fair society in the proclamation of our independence in 2011.