Journalists and activists in Bor appeal to authorities to uphold laws on freedom of expression
Journalists and activists in Bor are appealing to the government and its security operatives to respect freedom of expression, in line with the country’s transitional constitution and media laws.
“We are asking the government to make sure all the media houses are independent. There is no need for security operatives to get involved when the role of media authority is to investigate issues of media,” said John Achiek, Secretary for the Union of Journalists in Bor, during a workshop on freedom of expression organized by the United Nations Mission in South Sudan.
South Sudan ranks 144th out of 180 countries on the 2018 World Press Freedom Index. 10 journalists have been killed since the conflict erupted and a number of others detained or harassed. Yet no one has been charged with any of the killings.
“The government has to stay away from us. Anybody who violates the ethics of journalism should not be threatened or killed but should be taken to court for trial,” Achiek explained, advocating for the rights to free expression.
Achiek and fellow journalists and activists are asking for total independence of media houses, noting that government clamp down on freedom of expression is a direct violation of national and international media laws, including Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Adhieu Gai, member of the Kreative Nile family, a mobile theater organization in Jonglei, added her voice to the array.
“The government should accept objective criticism. Where will the government hear the public outcry or feedback of their actions if they shut down the doors of communication?” she said.
Atong Kuol Manyang, Jonglei State Minister of Information and Communication, responded to these calls, cautiously welcoming constructive criticism.
“Constructive criticism of the government is ok, but it must be done within the law. It is not acceptable to talk to people when you have false information about people or institutions or the government itself,” Atong said during the one-day forum.
The forum, led by the UNMISS Human Rights Division in Bor, was organized precisely to raise awareness amongst journalists, lawyers, youth, and civil society on their right to freedom of expression.
But with rights, also comes responsibility, as UNMISS Head of Field Office in Bor, Deborah Schein, underscored.
“Journalists should be reporting on the facts as they occur, which should be verified, corroborated, and accurate. That is a great responsibility for all journalists. You can say what your views are politically, but you cannot incite violence and hate,” Schein said.
Schein also challenged journalists to play a greater role in raising awareness of the newly signed peace deal. As the peace process moves forward, journalists’ right to freedom of press to hold parties to the conflict accountable is paramount to building a durable peace.