The Development of Legal Framework for Media and Freedom of Expression in South Sudan

Andiro Samuel, a 2015 Annenberg-Oxford participant and media lawyer in South Sudan, overviews the legal framework for media and freedom of expression in South Sudan.

After years of suppression and violation of fundamental human rights, the independence of South Sudan from the Khartoum regime in Sudan provided an opportunity for the establishment of a legal framework that could enhance the development and growth of vibrant and independent media in South Sudan. However, increasing reports of harassment faced by journalists and civil society in South Sudan have raised concerns that the world’s newest country is curtailing the basic freedom of expression and opinion. This post seeks to give a background for the development of media and media legal frameworks in South Sudan, and examine to what extent these legal frameworks protect media and the freedom of expression.

A Brief History of the Media and Legal Framework

The background to the media and legal framework for freedom of expression in South Sudan can be can be categorized into three main stages:

1950 – 1960: This period could be described as the period with no media presence. Primarily only religious literature introduced by the missionaries existed. However, the end of 1960s marked the beginning of the arrival of the print media.

1970 – 1980: In 1972, the Addis Ababa Agreement was signed, but before that newsletters were already being printed Southern Sudan. In 1974, the first radio station, Radio Juba, opened in Juba under the Sudan National Broadcasting Corporation. During the Southern Sudan Regional Government’s leadership, two print media outlets emerged: the government owned The Nile Mirror and privately owned The Guarding Star. A number of newsletters also emerged during this time.

1983 – 2005: Sudan’s longest civil conflict broke out during this period. This brought an end to ten years of media development (1972 – 1983). The Sudanese People Liberation Movement/Army (SPLM/A) launched Radio SPLA in 1984, and it became the only channel for information both in government and SPLM/A Controlled Areas. Radio SPLA became an effective liberation weapon until it was closed in 1996 and replaced by the print media known as The Update.[1] This paper existed until the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) in 2005 between the Government of Sudan and the SPLM/A. However, there were several other newsletters in circulation, although not regularly in the SPLA Controlled areas.

Pre-Independence Media & Media Laws in South Sudan

The signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) January 2005, which came into force between 2005-2011, provided the Government of Sudan and the Sudanese People’s Liberation Movement/Army with the legal framework for media and freedom of expression in South Sudan. Under the Interim Constitutions of Sudan and South Sudan (2005) the CPA laid the legal foundation for the interim government both in Sudan and South Sudan. Specifically Articles 28 and 36 outline key media freedom rights.

Article 28 of Interim Constitution provided for the freedom of expression in the following terms:

Every citizen shall have an unrestricted right to the expression, reception and dissemination of information, publication and access to the press without prejudice to order, safety or public morals as determined by law

Article 36 protects the right of access for information by stating:

Every citizen has the right of access to official information and records, including electronic records in the possession of any level of government, except where the release of such information is likely to prejudice public security or the right to privacy of any other person.

Post-Independence Media and Media Laws in South Sudan

In 2011, South Sudanese overwhelmingly voted for independence from the Sudan in an internationally monitored referendum that led to South Sudan’s independence. However, as a new nation, one major issue facing South Sudan was the need for a constitution that protected freedom of expression, reflecting the will and aspiration of the citizens. In July 9th 2011, the new Transitional Constitution of South Sudan 2011 was promulgated.

Article 24 of this document provides for the freedom of expression and media in the following terms:

  1. Every citizen shall have the right to the freedom of expression, reception and dissemination of information, publication, and access to the press without prejudice to public order, safety or morals as prescribed by law.
  2. All levels of government shall guarantee the freedom of the press and other media as shall be regulated by law in a democratic society.
  3. All media shall abide by professional ethics.

Article 32 of the Transitional Constitution provides for the Right of Access to Information:

Every citizen has the right of access to official information and records, including electronic records in the possession of any level of government or any organ or agency thereof, except where the release of such information is likely to prejudice public security or the right to privacy of any other person.

The Media Laws of South Sudan

As provided for under Article 24 of the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan, the National Legislature of South Sudan in 2013 enacted the three pieces of legislation which came to be known as the Media Laws 2013. These laws are comprised of the Broadcasting Corporation Act 2013, Media Authority Act 2013, and the Right of Access to Information Act 2013.

The Media Laws are a welcomed development by the Government of South Sudan, as they seek to abide international standards for media and freedom of expression. Indeed most of the provisions of these media laws meet the international standard such as:

  1. Section 6(12)(j) Mass media shall develop and promote broadcasting reflecting national and regional cultures and identities;
  2. 6(13)(a) Free media shall be protected as essential to democracy giving independent scrutiny and comment on the work of government and institutions, serving as the public watchdog and advocate, providing a free flow of information and diverse opinions
  3. 6(13) (b) Mass media shall be protected from censorship by any official or non-official authority
  4. 6 (13) (f) A journalist shall not be compelled to reveal his or her source of information obtained upon promise of confidentiality
  5. 6 (13) (h) No government license is required for any person practicing journalism as a profession- media and journalist shall adhere to a professional code of conduct.

Other provisions also state that national and state government broadcasting shall be transformed into public broadcasting services; the unlawful arrest, detention, harassment, intimidation and torture of journalists, including photo journalists, accredited to media organizations shall be prohibited; and all print media shall be self – regulating.

Despite an effort to meet international standards, the South Sudan Media Laws do fail to meet some aspects of international media and freedom of expression guidelines.

The existence of criminal defamation as provided for under Section 6 states that defamation shall have meaning assigned to it in the country’s Penal Code. This means that a journalist or media house could be charged for both civil and criminal offences. It should be noted that UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression has urged states to repeal criminal defamation from their statues as this poses serious concern on freedom of opinion and expression.

While the Media Authority Act 2013 provides a multistakeholder approach for the nomination of the Board of Media and Broadcasting members, there seems to be lack of transparency in this process. The process has been inundated with accusations that some names on the board list are unacceptable for various reasons.

Challenges Facing Freedom of Expression and Media in South Sudan

The media environment in South Sudan is often challenged with harassment, arrests, and detention of journalists by security personnel without arrest warrant, as well as direct and indirect censorship of the press and broadcast media for expression of opposition opinions.

Albany Associates, under the USAID Internews project, is working closely with partners in the South Sudan media fraternity to strengthen independent, free, and vibrant media in the country. Albany Associates conducts media law workshops across South Sudan with partners such as the Association of Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), the National Editors Forum, and the Union of Journalists in South Sudan (UJOSS). These workshops introduce journalists and different media houses to the provisions of the Media Laws applicable to their work. Albany supports the South Sudan Media Sector Working Group[2] (MSWG), an online forum where media practitioners can discuss issues surrounding the media environment in South Sudan. As part of the MSWG, Albany assists stakeholders such as AMDISS, UJOSS, the National Editors Forum, and AMWISS in advocating for improved legislative and regulatory frameworks to support the media and freedom of expression in South Sudan.

The Way Forward

The explicit protection of media and freedom of expression in the Transitional Constitution of South Sudan 2011 is a good development, and enacting the Media Laws in 2013 is a positive step in protecting freedom of expression media. However, the government of South Sudan should amend certain provisions in the Media Laws that do not comply with international best practices. There should also be full implementation of the Media Laws as currently execution is lagging. Enacting the Media Laws was a step in the right direction, however, enactment is ineffective if implementation falls by the wayside. Important media bodies that could help in the implementation of the Media Law, for example the Media Authority Board, the Broadcasting Corporation Board, and the office of Information Commissioner could play a role. South Sudanese citizens need information at this critical time when the country is at a crossroads in search for lasting peace, open political discourse, and a constitutional review process. Achievement of these goals can be facilitated through a vibrant media system that is protected from harassment and censorship.

[1] This newspaper was produced on monthly basis and acted as a mouthpiece for the SPLA to spread their propaganda and call on citizens to join the liberation movement.

[2] The South Sudan Media Sector Working Group (SSMSWG) coordinates the efforts of all media partners, both nationally and internationally, towards the planning, and the monitoring and evaluation of media development activities in South Sudan in line with development goals


Andiro Samuel is a media lawyer with the Albany Associates South Sudan Program under the Internews USAID i-Stream Funded Project. His responsibilities include working with legislators, government, media professionals, and other stakeholders to advocate for an improved legislative and regulatory framework in South Sudan; liaising with Association of Human Rights Lawyers in South Sudan, the South Sudan Law Society on legal defense; and facilitating workshops across South Sudan on media laws.


Featured Photo Credit: AttributionNo Derivative Works Some rights reserved by sidelife

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