The world's youngest nation, South Sudan, gained independence in 2011, following a lengthy civil war pitting the Muslim-Arab dominated north against the Christian majority south. The 2005 Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in Naivasha, Kenya between President Omar Al-Bashir's Sudan government and the Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM) led by the late Dr. John de Mabior Garang paved way for a referendum for self-determination and independence. The secession of South from Sudan opened minimal space for expression and press freedom leading to a sharp rise in the number of media institutions. But, hardly two years into independence, South Sudan plunged into its own civil war that has killed hundreds of thousands and displaced at least 4.5Million civilians according to United Nation High Commission for Refugees (2019). At independence, South Sudan relied hugely on oil revenue to finance up to 90 percent of its government functions but the ensuing war decimated the country's social economic infrastructure leading to an economic turmoil exacerbated by the civil war. The media landscape in South Sudan has thus hugely been affected by political and economic fragmentation in the country. Media organisations face immense logistical, technical and financial challenges worsenedby conflict and violence across the country. A new wave of civil war, which began in 2013, led to a political and economic crisis, resulting in broken government structures which negatively impacted mass media growth and development. The ongoing Coranavirus pandemic has dealt a further blow to the country which only just signed a peace agreement and formed a Revitalized Transitional Government of National Unity (RTGoNU) made up of the Sudan People Liberation Movement (SPLM) government and opposition parties into a coalition government headed by president Salva Kiir and five vice presidents representing the opposition and rebel factions.

Even before the outbreak of conflict in 2013, South Sudan ranked high among countries with a harsh environment for journalists and curtailed freedom of expression and free press (Freedom House 2019). The country’s authorities, mainly the National Security Service, employed heavy-handed approach and violent tactics including arrests, torture and punitive laws, similarly to the previous Khartoum regimes which used to censor journalists and suppress freedom of expression. Open violence against journalists only worsened as the war continued. Reporters Without Borders estimates that at least 10 journalists have been killed in South Sudan between 2014 and 2016 while others remained under arrest without charge. Furthermore, the continued sporadic fighting among various warring factions hindered access to many parts of the country, causing a sharp drop in mass media circulation which has in effect locked out a majority of South Sudanese from access to news and information.

Media are heavily controlled by government authorities. The public broadcaster, South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC), operates a chain of FM radio stations and a television which have since been used by the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) regime to voice its views and opinions. Government officials openly warned journalists and media organisations from reporting the views of the opposition parties and armies. Any attempt to attaining critical or balanced reporting of the conflict have been met with violent attacks, arrests and shutdowns. A few private media institutions operate from the capital, Juba, but they have had to practice self-censorship or face shutdown. Consequently, many South Sudanese journalists have been forced to flee the country or quit the journalism practice. The latest available media survey in 2015 Media Survey commissioned by Internews Network - funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to promote access to information and media development - found that 3 out of 4 South Sudanese journalists do not hold journalism qualification or have refresher trainings.

The peace agreement of 2018, signed between president Salva Kiir and his former deputy turned rebel leader and current first vice president, Riek Machar, brings high hopes for the resolution of the conflict in South Sudan and a return to peace. South Sudan parliament passed a media bill in 2016 that introduced changes including establishment of South Sudan media authority and State owned South Sudan Television change to South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC). At its inception, the media bill was hailed as a landmark boast for the country's media but it was soon criticised for failing to yield desired changes by the media and civil society groups.. New media legislation which meets international standards has been passed but is mostly not adhered to. Yet, freedom of expression is still not guaranteed as provided by the Transitional Constitution

As of 2020, parts of South Sudan are still controlled by various rebel and opposition factions. Continued sporadic attacks coupled up with weak transport networks have destroyedthe country’s economy further worsened by the novel coronavirus pandemic. . As a result, South Sudan’s media landscape remains largely fragmentedwith mimimal growth. . Political changes have influenced how media function in theSouth Sudan. . The media landscape has shrunk and expanded depending on the regime in power. Despite new progressive media and broadcast legislation being signed into laws in 2013, repressive strategies are still used to censor journalists and citizens with critical views of the government. The Sudan People's Liberation Movement (SPLM). regime has used government organs to suppress free speech by arresting local journalists and influencers, denying foreign journalists accreditation, shutting down media organisations and blocking access to online media reporting the views of the opposition. For instance, in March 2019, a court charged the activist Peter Biar Ajak with terrorism after over a 9-month solitary detention. The Harvard- and Cambridge-educated scholar was arrested in July, 2018 after making comments criticising the failure of the country’s leadership to stop five years of civil war. Peter Ajak was released in January 2020 through a presidential pardon.

In the years leading up to the South Sudan referendum and independence, the transitional government of Southern Sudan encouraged vibrant media reporting to mobilise a popular vote for cessation. The Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) signed in 2005 between Southern Sudan’s SPLM and the Sudan government had led to Khartoum’s regime relaxation of its grip on the Southern states, which opened up space for expressions and mass media growth. Hence, a number of privately owned radio stations and newspapers started mushrooming across the nation. Their existence, however, was short-lived. After independence, the SPLM regime reverted back to violent tactics to stifle freedom of expression and free press. The lack of legal framework to provide for free media and speech has further discouraged media growth thehe e. The government has used the punitive Penal Code Act (2008) to charge journalists and media institutions. The Penal Code, for instance, criminalised defamation and libel cases and imposed heavy fines and penalties including a jail term of not less than 20 years in prison. Meanwhile, government authorities publicly warned journalists from reporting the views of the opposition and threatened to arrest journalists and shutdown their media institutions. In effect, the broadcast output has heavily been influenced by the SPLM political views and rhetoric. This influence has, however, inversely led to the rise of vibrant online news establishments such as the Sudan Tribune and Radio Tamazuj, which despite shutdowns have continued to publish and broadcast balanced and critical reporting from both the government and the opposition positions. However, access to these websites has been blocked in South Sudan.

Until the late 1960s, there were no training institutions for journalists outside Sudan’s capital Khartoum and in the Southern regions. A majority of practicing journalists in Southern Sudan were trained in colleges and universities in neighbouring Egypt, Kenya and Uganda. For this reason, the journalism profession has remained in its infancy with minimal to no growth. Following South Sudan’s independence, Juba University introduced mass communication and development communications courses but the conflict induced shutdowns and logistical challenges, such as the dire lack of teaching resources and instructional materials to enable a robust professional training, hampered the capacity of the institution to offer journalism courses. Meanwhile, extreme censorship and targeting of journalists along with lack of working resources in media institutions have forced many experienced journalists to abandon the profession. The situation discourages mentorships in South Sudan newsrooms and transfers of knowledge to younger colleagues and non-journalism graduates.

A number of institutions such as Internews, BBC Media Action and Journalists for Human Rights (JHR) have stepped in, to improve the journalistic skills of editors and reporters. But, the lack of overall basic skills in research, writing and editing among many reporters and editors has hindered these attempts of professional development. Government authorities have used the lack of professionalism among journalists to justify censorship. While it is not uncommon for government authorities to directly intervene in media operations, political interference is so ingrained in the media system that many South Sudanese journalists have learn and mastered self-censorship, with detriment to their professionality. During the 2018 National Media Roadmap Forum held in Juba, Alfred Taban, the late founding editor and publisher of Juba Monitor said; reporters and editors routinely avoid reporting on issues which they deem likely to upset the government and civilians on their part desist from commenting on news, thus frustrating efforts to attain balanced and objective reporting.

The vast majority of the South Sudanese, however, still depend on a few radio stations, newspapers and the state-run South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation (SSBC) for news and information. There are a few operational independent media houses but they have drastically decreased in numbers since 2013. Many South Sudanese have consequently been left with no alternative options for news and information outside government channels and pro-government press. The government has continued to censor the media to such an extent that even comments reflecting opposing views from radio listeners have led to arrests and shutdowns of media houses. For example, in 2009, following on-air broadcasts of a phone-in comment that was deemed critical of the government, security agents raided independent radio stations in Juba, such as Liberty FM and Bakhita Radio, run by the Catholic Church. Also, as of 2016, the National Security Services of South Sudan placed agents in printing presses to review and pull-out critical newspaper placements before they go to press.

Journalists are still working in a difficult and challenging environment which hinders a robust growth of media institutions. The horrors of the lengthy civil war and the lack of guaranteed freedom of expression have deterred civilians from active engagement with media and from expressing themselves on the press, due to fear of reprisals and attacks. Mistrust in technology has also hurt media operations in South Sudan, especially for broadcast media, as it emerged during the First National Media Symposium of 2018, where many journalists reported that in various instances people, especially in areas outside Juba, reacted strongly when cameras were pointed at them. The mistrust in broadcast equipment have been heightened by the horrors and traumas of the war associated with former Khartoum regime surveilance.