The harsh laws governing media and journalists’ operations in South Sudan have drastically changed over the years but more in theory than in practice. President Salva Kiir signed into law the Media Authority Act (2013), the Broadcasting Corporation Act (2013) and the Right of Access to Information Act (2014), providing the legal framework for the promotion press freedom and access to information.
The Media Authority Act enshrines the principle that the right to freedom of expression, including the public right to a pluralistic media, is a fundamental human right, protected under Article 24 of the Transitional Constitution of the Republic of South Sudan. This new legislation is a stark contrast from the Penal Code Act (2008), which holds laws that govern freedom of expression and press. This legislation limits space for the free operation of media and criminalises defamation and libel cases. Under the code, heavy fines and penalties have been imposed on journalists and media institutions.
Despite the new provisions, government authorities such as the National Security Services (NSS) are involved in continuous violations. For instance, the NSS has imposed regulatory agents on press facilities, who review and eventually remove articles from the publication before newspapers go to press. In 2017 the US-based watchdog, Freedom House reported that the NSS has almost unlimited powers to detain and interrogate suspects, as a result of dysfunctions and lack of capacity in the justice system, leading to indefinite detention without charge in many cases. Continuing violations by government organs, mostly NSS and state administrators, have not only discouraged reporting outside Juba city but also deterred Non-Governmental Organization from aiding journalists access to far flung regions of South Sudan. Thorough checks and Media Authority clearance have been required for journalists to access local flights, such roadblocks have further frustrated media operations in the country.
The Media Authority Act provides for digital media registration and regulation. However, the Media Authority of South Sudan, the body established to oversee media operation in South Sudan, has summoned and sanctioned the digital press in various occasions. In 2017, the South Sudanese Ministry of Information and Broadcasting blocked access to two online media, Sudan Tribune and Tamazuj and two blogs Paanluel and Nyamapile. Such acts have undermined the provisions for free press and the freedoms of expression.