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Inadequate Capacity Hinders Media Authority Work To Handle Media Issues, Chairperson

atong MA


By Roger Alfred Yoron

 

Journalists thought the formation of the Media Authority would finally end their scuffle with security institutions over media related issues, but nothing changed ever since President Salva Kiir assented to the media laws and appointed officials to the media regulatory body.


President Kiir appointed nine members of the board of directors of the Media Authority last year but cases of detention of journalists by security still persist.


Ayuen Akuot Atem, a freelance journalist based in Juba said he is surprised why the body has failed to turn things around.


“When they were established… it was a hope for the media professionals but to my surprise as a journalist today, the situation has never changed. It is like we are still in the same stage whereby there is no anybody or media regulatory body that is taking care of journalists’ affairs,” Akuot told The Nation Mirror.


“We always operate in fear because there is no Media Authority or a Media Regulatory Body that will take care of us and our media houses in case of anything. So we are actually in fear and in fear of uncertainty.” The role of Media Authority according to the Act, is to regulate, develop and promote independent and professional media in South Sudan.


The Authority shall be a regulatory body for the broadcast media and transformation of government and state controlled television and radio into a public broadcasting corporation, the law says. “The Authority shall ensure that media development and press freedoms in South Sudan are consistent with Constitutional and International guarantees of freedom of expression and shall promote public interest in the media sector specifically by: … (h) amicably resolving legal complaints of defamation, incitement to violence, hate speech and invasion of privacy,” provides Section 19 (1) of the Act. 

 

Yet, the board of directors currently operates with only seven members after two, including the former chairperson Kiir Chol Deng resigned.


Some eight specialized committees and autonomous bodies including the Press and Broadcast Complaints Council, Hearings Panel, Media Appeals Board, Legal Committee, Complaints and Monitoring Committee, Broadcast and Frequency Licensing Committee, Public Affairs and Education Committee Engineering and Technical Standard Committee are required by the law for the fulfilment of the mandate of the Authority.


None of those committees and bodies have been formed. Atong Majok Kur, chairperson of the Authority told The Nation Mirror that the body has failed to deliver and form the required committees due to lack of budget.


However, she explained that, the Authority has been giving advice to the government, media houses, and security agencies with regards to the issues raised in the media law.


“There are some positive outcome of that guidance and what we always receive [from the NSS] as an answer is ‘please, the Media Authority, we shouldn’t be doing your work. Establish your office. We are just here to fill the vacuum, because we are seeing a vacuum. If you are not here to regulate, then there must be somebody who must be taking care of this until you come up,’” Majok said.


“And when they tell us that…we look at ourselves and ask: ‘where will we start from?’ The budget is not there and we don’t have money to bring in the committees [required by the law]...”


She said the Authority has failed to secure funds from agencies including UNESCO and Internews.

Earlier, some agencies promised to fund the Authority once transitional government of national unity is formed, she said.


“And we have been waiting, the transitional government is formed and we have not seen any help from them. So that was another thing. We also have inadequate capacity to respond and handle media issues,” Majok said. Oliver Modi Phillip, the Chairperson of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan UJOSS urged the Media body to fulfill their mandate defined by the law.


He said the Authority should have strategies for lobbying besides the government budget.


“The security are right that they are filling a vacuum which was created long time ago even before this media laws existed. Since the [the Media Authority] were not there, the security have to shoulder that kind of responsibility...” Modi told The Nation Mirror. “If they come to UJOSS and say they wanted something like a printing paper, I will give, even if the little, we shall share with them. That is the creativity we are talking about. If we start locally like that, then we’ll advance to other partners who have more support.” However, journalist Akuot remains skeptical about what the Media Authority will deliver. 


“…you need to reflect your skill and ability that you can be able to do the job. But if you first put up the issue of budget without doing the work, there is no guarantee… So I am still skeptical they may be given that budget and they relax the way they relax. I’m still having that skepticism,” Akuot said. “Whenever they are functioning, I expect them to handle the issues of media without the interference of other organ like the security… they should also work so that the Country will be able to know what they are doing and whether they are working for the interest of institutions that they were formed to regulate.”


 

Questionable Independence


Right groups have raised concerns that provisions of the Act which give the executive the power to appoint and dismiss members of the board of directors will compromise independence of the Media Authority.

The groups, including Article 19 adds that provisions in the Act which make the Media Authority dependent on budget and grants approved by the government, open a door for undue influence.


However, Majok insisted the Media Authority shall maintain independent regardless of how its members have been appointed. “So the fact that I am appointed, I don’t see it is contradicting with my roles, because the law was very clear that the Media Authority should be independent, should be advising the government. As long as there is something guiding me, the Act, I will not fear being removed, even if it costs me my job, that’s OK,” she added.


“Maybe if there are some articles [which are not good] in the law, the law is not there to be permanent, it can be amended, anytime. If you feel like this law is really contradicting with this, then you amend, if the majority accept that it has to be amended.”

 

Some Minimal Achievement and The Future


Majok revealed that the Media Authority has managed to acquire a rented office space which shall be launched soon. 


“…despite all the challenges that we are facing, lack of funding…we now have our office, it’s only the process of now launching it and making it operational. We have paid all the rent.  We have furnished the offices and it is all about the business community helping,” she said.


Thereafter, Majok said, the specialized committees required by the law will be formed, with the hope that the government will include the Authority in the budget currently under discussion for the financial year 2016/2017.

“If you will delay someone’s [the committees’] salary for one month, it is understandable,” Majok said explaining that the Managing Director of the Authority has been “volunteering” since his appointment four months ago.


Modi, the UJOSS chairperson urged the Authority to “as soon as possible” form the Press and Broadcast Complaints Council.


The Act says the Council shall “promote and adopt codes of ethics and guidelines for professional conduct for print and broadcast journalists.” Modi called for review and unification of the current codes of ethics being used by journalists in the Country.


“What we did [the current code] was temporarily to make sure that journalists have something to at least guide them... the Media Authority has responsibility to make sure that all these will be put right, and that’s why we need them to be really there,” said Modi, who also doubles as executive member of the Association for Media Development in South Sudan AMDISS.


He further called for replacement of the two members who have resigned from the Authority. Modi argued that challenges affecting journalists cannot wait for the Country to become stable.


“They are supposed to be opening their office. That office is rented but nobody is inside. The issues of structures and office equipment does not need to wait until the budget is out,” the UJOSS chairperson stressed.

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