The Media Authority Act (2013) provides for the establishment of an autonomous oversight body, the Media Authority, to regulate, develop and promote an independent and pluralistic media industry in the country. It was created in 2016 and started operations in 2017. The establishment of the Media Authority was met with enthusiasm by many media practitioners and journalists. However, today media professionals are sceptical of the Authority’s mandate. Many believe the Media Authority acts on behalf of the NSS instead of defending media freedom and the ability of journalists to exercise the profession.
While on paper South Sudan’s media laws offer adequate protection and a conducive environment for journalists, the opposite is indeed true when applied to the daily coverage of news and current affairs. In 2017, 20 foreign journalists were barred by the media authority from entering the country and reporting. On 7 January, 2019 the Media Authority summoned the editor-in-chief of the Arabic-language newspaper Al-Watan, Michael Christopher. The Authority issued a warning to the paper to “stop with immediate effect writing anything on topics relating to the ongoing protests in Sudan, which is an internal political issue (sic) of a friendly neighbouring country.” Various local and regional media groups interpreted the warning written by the Authority’s Managing Director, Sapana Abuyi, as a blanket warning to all South Sudanese media not to cover the protests. In the letter, Sapana said “the media in South Sudan should not write or broadcast or instigate statements and comments about [the protests in Sudan].” The Commission for the Protection of Journalists CPJ said the gag on Al-Watan newspaper exposed South Sudan’s hostility toward its citizen’s right to information.