Dangerious to be a media practitioner in a conflict situation, yet journalists risk to provide society with information

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JOUNLISTS IN SS

(Photo courtesy of UNESCO, SS)

[Nairobi, Kenya, TCT] Early this month, the 2016 UNESCO Director-General Report on the Safety of Journalists and the Danger of Impunity was released. The report offers an overview of the killings of journalists in 2014-2015 in different parts of the world. It also provides an analysis of a decade of killings of journalists, media workers and social media producers between January 2006 and December 2015. The extent of the risks faced by journalists is demonstrated by the 827 killings recorded by UNESCO in the last ten years.

The report shows that since 2006, more than 800 journalists have been killed and less than 7 per cent of these crimes have been resolved. The findings were released as the world was marking the International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists (IDEI).

The report shows that freelance journalists are particularly exposed to risk, as they often work alone on stories in dangerous environments, and rarely get the same level of assistance and protection as journalists employed by a media house.

South Sudan is among the first countries on the list of dangerious countries to practice journalism. Most of the journalists in South Sudan would fall in this category, in the sense that they lack the organizational support and protection, in case they get into trouble with individuals within and outside the state agencies, which happens most often.

Most of the deaths recorded by UNESCO have occurred in places with armed conflict, reflecting the extreme vulnerability of journalists working in conflict zones, like the situation we have in South Sudan today. For example in 2015, the report shows that up to 115 journalists were killed with seven of these deaths happened in South Sudan. In this newest nation in the world, journalists experience all forms of harrasment usually from the state organs and individuals with power. Many journalists in South Sudan have been reported missing, some experienced extreme cruel level of torturing and others exiled to avoid targetting. 

An important step in addressing the high levels of killings of journalists, it says, is combating impunity, which fuels and perpetuates a cycle of violence against journalists and creates fear upon society.

Nine journalists killed in South Sudan since 2012
According to the report, nine journalists have been killed in South Sudan since 2012, and their deaths have never been resolved. This is an indictment of the justice system in the country. It is true that harassment of media personnel and media houses has been a common occurrence in the country. In this newest nation in the world, journalists experience all forms of harrasment usually from the state organs and individuals with power. Many journalists in South Sudan have been reported missing, some experienced extreme cruel level of torturing and others exiled to avoid targetting. 

According to Ms. Irina Bokova, the Director General of UNESCO, working as a journalist remains unacceptably dangerous. The report shows that only one in every ten cases of killed journalists is resolved by the judiciary.

Accordingly, UNESCO has called for a new commitment by all to create a free and safe environment for journalists to achieve the Sustainable Development Goal on access to information.

As the report shows, working as a journalist in a conflict situation, like the one we have in South Sudan, is more dangerous than working anywhere else. Journalists in South Sudan and elsewhere work under difficult circumstances, yet they have never given up. The media associations in place, notably Union of Journalists of South Sudan (UJOSS) and Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) are trying their best to protect journalists and empower them with skills and information, but a lot still needs to be done.

It is ironical that whereas the South Sudanese society wants to get and share information, it is not ready to embrace or protect the people who convey this information. This is what we have seen happening through state censorship and clamping down on media that is perceived to be critical.

The UN Sustainable Development Goal 16, which aims to promote a just, peaceful and inclusive society, will not be achieved in South Sudan, or anywhere else in the world, if journalists are not allowed to work freely wherever they are.

Despite the challenges that the journalists working in the country are facing, we still need them because information and communication is part and parcel of the development process of all countries in the world, South Sudan included.

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