[Nairobi, Kenya, TCT] The media in many nations is referred to as the fourth estate. It is referred as such because it is an important institution that comes after the legislature, the judiciary and the executive.
In South Sudan, the media is now finding itself in a difficult situation after a number of journalists lost their lives; some have been detained, while others have been forced to relocate from the country because of alleged threats on their lives.
The latest incident involving media personalities was the reported death of one journalist, Mr. Isaac Vuni, who was allegedly kidnapped from home by security agents in July, and his dead body was found dumped in his village last month. This is a sad state of affairs because up to now, no one has been arrested because of the death, neither has the government issued any statement on the same issue.
According to three media watchdogs operating in the country, Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), the Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) and National Editors Forum (NEF), the media has had a rough time since war broke out in Juba in December 2013.
They say that 27 journalists were arrested, some were released but some are still in detention, seven media houses were closed down and only two have been reopened, three journalists were kidnapped, tortured and later dumped near graveyards, while two journalists were kidnapped and are still missing.
Additionally, they say that many journalists have fled from the country for fear for their lives and there have been 45 cases of intimidation of media houses and journalists. These are extremely high figures.
If the media is under attack, who then is safe?
Since no one has come out to dispute these figures, one can safely say that they represent the state of the media in the country. What they reveal is that the media sector is operating in an extremely difficult situation. The media is supposed to be the watchdog of the country and to be the voice of the voiceless. If the media is under attack, who then is safe?
However, these reports come as no surprise, considering that South Sudan is currently ranked 140th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, 15 places lower than its position in the 2015 Index.
As the three media organizations said yesterday, it is the duty of the government to provide security for all citizens of the country. Members of the media are also citizens of the country and they need protection while doing their job, or in their own private capacities.
The fact that the government has not issued any statement to either confirm or disconfirm what the watchdogs are saying, leaves a lot to be desired. Moreover, no one has been brought to book because of the many cases of harassment or intimidation against the media. One would easily agree with the media organizations that very powerful individuals in the country are behind these cases of suppression against the media.
As people who are in the media industry and whose lives may also be threatened, we urge the concerned government agencies to move with speed and bring to book the killers of the late Mr. Vuni, and two other journalists (John Gatluk and Kamula Duro) who were also killed in July.
It is incumbent on the government to assure everyone that the country is safe and that no one needs to fear for his or her live. This is the only way that investors would be confident to come and invest in the country, because they know that their lives and investments will be safe in the country.