Last Wednesday the British Ambassador to the Republic of South Sudan, Dr. Alastair McPhail, held a reception of press and media at the British Embassy in Juba. His comments are published below for the consumption of our readers:
Ladies and Gentlemen; good evening and welcome to my residence.
I have invited you here tonight to celebrate the press and media sector in South Sudan, and to mark the UK’s commitment to championing the right to freedom of expression.
In their 2011-2012 press freedom index, ‘Reporters Without Borders’ ranked South Sudan 111th out of 179 countries. The report states that South Sudan “has entered the index in a respectable position for what is a breakaway from one of the worst ranked countries, Sudan (170th)”. We should pause before congratulating ourselves on this relative achievement to reflect on some of the numerous issues that continue to challenge you in your professional work.
Often when we think about the fight for freedom of the press, challenges like direct censorship and restriction of access come to mind. However, an environment which encourages self-censorship through intimidation, where fear of harassment leads journalists to limit the issues on which they report, is equally destructive.
In South Sudan the absence of legal protection for the press presents a clear challenge.The three media bills, introduced in 2007, have yet to be enacted, leaving you and the media sector without a regulatory framework which would protect you, allow you access to public information and spell out your professional responsibilities.
In December, news of the murder of Isaiah Abraham, a political commentator, shocked South Sudanese and international observers alike. We know that Mr Abraham had written articles critical of the Government. We know that this type of act, of repression of those who speak out, must not be allowed to continue.
We will continue to press the Government to complete a full investigation and prosecute those responsible. We will continue to raise the vital role of protection of the press and freedom of expression in this Government’s commitment to honour and uphold human rights, and as central to the development of a healthy and prosperous democracy.
The UK also calls on you, the journalists, editors, broadcasters and publishing houses, to recognise and embrace your responsibilities, which go hand-in-hand with your rights. Responsible reporting does not mean limiting the issues upon which you report. It does not mean changing your allegiances. But it does mean ensuring that your reporting is honest, accountable, objective, and evidence-based. Those facing accusations founded in inflammatory, inaccurate or fabricated journalism should be able to pursue their cases through the courts. You should be wary of writing which incites violence or deepens ethnic or tribal divisions.
Today, there remains a significant human rights challenge for South Sudan. Poor communications limit the ability of communities to understand and monitor their rights, and to report violations. A free and active press helps to improve the flow of information and empowers South Sudanese to demandmore from their local and national governments. The UK recognises that defending human rights is vital to the development of a pluralistic and democratic society, and to ensuring government works transparently and accountably towards prosperity and stability for all in South Sudan. But we also recognise that this will not happen overnight. It will take time and dedication.
The UK would like to pay tribute to the dedication of press professionals in South Sudan, many of whom are here tonight, and the NGOs and civil society organisations who support and defend you. You have a role to play in promoting accountability and transparency in this young democracy, in holding your leadership to account.
I would like publicly to renew the British Government’s commitment to supporting you in your work. We hope to see South Sudan move up the ranking in the press freedom index, and we look forward to seeing you able to work without fear of reprisal.