“Access to information and freedom of expression are a myth in South Sudan” – An Interview with Philips Anyang Ngong

2016 CGCS visiting scholar Till Waescher, interviews 2016 Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute participant Phillips Anyang Ngong, advocate and legal consultant for Southern Sudan Associated Advocates, to discuss the impact of domestic and foreign news outlets, the limits of media laws when it comes to protecting journalists, and the use of social media during the current crisis.

Last month, in a conflict between President Salvia Kiir and Vice-President Riek Machar, South Sudan was on the brink of its second civil war since its founding in 2011. What is the role of the media in this conflict and how does media regulation work in a region that has been plagued by ethnic violence for decades? In an interview with 2016 CGCS visiting scholar Till Waescher, 2016 Annenberg-Oxford Media Policy Summer Institute participant Phillips Anyang Ngong, advocate and legal consultant for Southern Sudan Associated Advocates, discusses the impact of domestic and foreign news outlets, the limits of media laws when it comes to protecting journalists, and the use of social media during the current crisis.

 

83 percent of South Sudan’s population lives in rural areas and 70 percent are illiterate. In addition, there has not been a lasting peace in the country for the past 61 years. Given these circumstances what are the biggest challenges when it comes to regulating the South Sudanese media landscape?

The main challenge here is failure by the authorities to draw a line between what should be regulated and what is being regulated in South Sudan. The notable issues and the biggest challenges revolve around weak institutions, a poor understanding of what constitutes ‘media’ in South Sudan, and appraisal of responsibility by the regulating institutions.

South Sudan continues to face many challenges, it being a young democracy with a history of civil wars, coupled with the rate of illiteracy. The media has remained on the center stage as a visible sector that has had and continues to have numerous clashes with state apparatuses especially the government bodies dealing with national security.

 
Since the country’s independence in 2011, the government has passed extensive media legislation, including the National Communication Act of 2012, Broadcasting Corporation Act, 2013, the Media Authority Act of 2013 and Right to Access Information Act, 2013. Explain the effects these laws had on the media and communications sector in your country.

Institutional wise, the laws have led to the establishment of regulatory bodies such as the Information Commission, the National Communication Commission, the Media Authority and the Broadcasting Corporation (that formerly existed as Directorate of South Sudan Television and Radio, under the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting), all of which should have – in theory – contributed to the goal of achieving a viable media and communication sector in South Sudan.

Yet so far it is hard to rate the actual performance of these institutions because of the lack of funds which is believed to hamper and lag their basic functionality. Yes, the laws are in place but with little or no tangible effects, and many people are not even aware they exist. Their performance does not meet the purpose of the laws; for example, during the past year, which saw great political instability in the country, the same entities were officially in operation but could actually contribute very little to defuse the situation.

 
As in other countries in the region, radio is the prime source of information for most South Sudanese. What role do the state-owned South Sudan Radio and the TV station SSBC (South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation) play in the media landscape and how do they shape national discourse? What
about foreign news outlets such as BBC World Service?

SSBC remains the only television channel in South Sudan which airs live coverage from within the country, making it clearly the most significant actor in the national media landscape. However, SSBC and Radio are still primarily received as government projects and their broadcasts are seen as attempts to shape the national discourse according to the will of the government. Foreign outlets, on the other hand, are popular brands especially BBC World Service which has a huge audience in South Sudan. Given the limitations of the politically charged reporting on SSBC, the South Sudanese public has a dire need for information and the BBC has partially filled that void and has been an inspiration for the media sector as a whole.

 
Article 24 and 32 of the Constitutional Provision (TCRSS) guarantee freedom of expression and access to information. Yet in July 2016, South Sudanese authorities arrested Alfred Taban, a veteran journalist and
editor-in-chief of the English-language newspaper Juba Monitor, after calling on President Kiir to step down. Explain the significance of the Taban case and the role of social media in generating international attention.

Access to information and freedom of expression are a myth in South Sudan rather than an actual practice. The Taban case is a prime example of how freedom of expression has lost its meaning.  Taban is not the only journalist who has been prosecuted. There are a couple of similar cases, but little is being done to improve the situation. Even the Alfred Taban case has not received the appropriate attention both in print and on social media. Much more should have been done to reach out to the public as well as draw international attention to this grave abuse of constitutional rights.

In theory social media is a great tool that is becoming more popular in South Sudan every day, but its popularity is being abused and it actually played a big role in fueling the recent political uprising in the country. Of course social media is a great tool for getting quick news, updates and follow up of the political developments in the country. Yet, with regards to the growing ethnic division in South Sudan, people have embarked to use it to champion tribal interests related to the political situation in the country.

 
Due to the low penetration of Internet access across the country, only 2.1 million South Sudanese go online on a regular basis. However, many former citizens who have left the country discuss South Sudanese politics on social networking sites. What are the effects of online discourse by the diaspora
on national politics?

The growth of social media within the population should be considered a positive thing. However, the recent developments in the country have shown that South Sudanese social media users both from inside and outside of the country have abused social networking sites. It is being used as a propaganda tool by both the government and rebel supporters. Whatever goes on social media is half baked, people are living on hearsay and third party informants. The accuracy of what goes online is never confirmed and the consumers of the same information take it with passion, which often times deepens the wounds associated to the chaos in the country.

In the case of South Sudan, I would argue, social media has done more harm than good in national politics although there have been a few instances where it is being used responsibly by a few elites.

 

 

 

Phillips Anyang Ngong is an advocate and legal consultant for the Southern Sudan Associated Advocates. He holds a Bachelor of Laws (LLB) from Kampala International University (KIU), as well as diplomas in legal practice, business administration and human resource management. Alongside his legal practice, he is the Secretary General at the Center for Human Rights lawyers, a media lawyer, a lecturer at the South Sudan Christian University of Science and Technology (2012-2016), and a human rights activist. He is currently a professional member of the South Sudan Law Society, the South Sudan Bar Associations, the Coalitions of Advocates, and advocates for Public International Law and the Juba Center for Arbitration.

Prior to joining the legal practice, Philips served as an Inspector for Establishment with South Sudan Radio and Television (2006-2009), he worked with various media houses including Capital FM Juba where he worked as a Presenter, Producer and later as Program Manager, a columnist with Citizen Newspaper and currently does legal consultancy with media houses.

His publications include Analysis of Legal Perspective of Electoral Process: The case study of Uganda, which is currently being used as a reference book, Kampala International University, Uganda. He is currently writing a book titled Foundations of Land Law in South Sudan 1st Edition.

 

Till Waescher is a PhD candidate at the School for International and Intercultural Communication (SIIC) at TU Dortmund University, and a research fellow at the Institute for Media and Communication Policy (IfM), Cologne, Germany. In his dissertation he examines political communication strategies of transnational privacy advocacy groups in the aftermath of the Snowden leaks. Till Waescher completed his masters’ studies in Political Science at the University of Potsdam and in American Studies at Free University, Berlin, Germany. Parallel to his academic career, he has been a frequent contributor to German online media outlets and was involved in various media policy consulting projects in Germany. His research interests include Social Movement Communications, Surveillance Studies, Media Concentration, and Media Policy.

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