A one-day Stakeholders’ Dialogue on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity was held in Juba, South Sudan, on Monday, December 11, 2017. The Dialogue was organised by the African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), in collaboration with one of its members, the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) as part of activities to commemorate the 2017 International Day to End Impunity for Crimes Against Journalists (IDEI). It was funded by the Toronto-based global network of freedom of expression organizations, IFEX, and the Norwegian People’s Aid.
The Dialogue brought together key stakeholders including media practitioners across the print, broadcast and online sectors; representatives of civil society organisations; representatives of various agencies within the Government of South Sudan such as the Ministry of Information, Telecommunications and Postal Services, the Ministry of Interior, and the Media Authority; international organisations and development partners in South Sudan; as well as AFEX members from some African countries.
At the end of the Dialogue, participants adopted following communique and called on the Government of South Sudan and all other governments in Africa to rigorously implement the recommendations contained in it to improve the safety of journalists and check impunity for crimes against journalists.
The participants expressed deep concern about the increased challenges of safety of journalists and prevailing climate of impunity for crimes against journalists and media houses in South Sudan as well as other parts of Africa.
They observed that journalists and other media professionals across the globe continue to face attacks such as torture, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, expulsions, physical assaults, intimidation and harassment, threats, killings, and other forms of violence, noting that the safety of journalists and eradication of impunity for crimes against journalists constitute a prerequisite for the exercise and enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and media freedom.
The participants stressed that such attacks on journalists both globally and across the African continent, interfere with their watchdog role, especially as many of such attacks, which are perpetrated by security agents, state officials, or individuals, are usually left unpunished;
They noted that such attacks against journalists and other media professionals often lead to self-censorship, which is dangerous for the effective functioning of any democratic society;
The participants stressed that States, including in Africa, have a responsibility under various regional and international frameworks to protect the safety of journalists and ensure that attacks against them do not go unpunished;
They therefore welcomed recent measures being taken at regional and international levels to address the situation, including the adoption of the United Nations Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity, in which UN agencies, funds and programmes have been invited to work with UN Member States to ensure a free and safe environment for journalists and media workers in both conflict and non-conflict situations, with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development worldwide;
The participants agreed that low levels of capacity within the media on the subject of professionalism and conflict-sensitive reporting, how to respond to violent attacks against journalists, especially female practitioners, the existence of draconian laws, the continued interference by government officials and agencies in professional matters concerning the media, among other factors, are also major challenges confronting journalists in Africa.
African governments should:
- As a matter of urgency and consistent with relevant international frameworks, put in place concrete measures to ensure the safety of journalists and combat impunity for crimes against journalists;
- In particular, ensure that relevant security agencies diligently and properly investigate all reported cases of attacks against journalists, including killings, torture, other physical attacks, arbitrary arrests and detention to a logical conclusion and that perpetrators are brought to justice;
- Review or repeal laws that criminalise expression or journalistic activities, such as criminal defamation laws, insult laws, sedition laws, and other laws that are inimical to the exercise or enjoyment of the rights to freedom of expression and access to information;
- Set up or, where they already exist, strengthen media-security dialogue platforms to discuss and resolve or redress issues between the media and governments or security and intelligence agencies in the different African countries.
- Ensure that all press offences are handled by the appropriate media regulatory bodies of their respective countries;
- Ensure that law enforcement agencies do not continue to interfere with the work of journalists and their exercise of the right freedom of expression, but that all complaints in regarding the conduct of the media and media professionals are directed to the appropriate media regulatory bodies set up in the various countries and thoroughly addressed accordingly;
Civil society organisations should
- Continue to conduct advocacy activities for the safety of journalists and justice for crimes committed against journalists;
- Facilitate awareness among the general public and relevant stakeholders in the different countries on the continent on the need for them to work together to promote, support and defend professional journalism at all times;
- Organise dialogues, workshops (long term and short term training events) or other forums to strengthen relations between relevant media stakeholders, especially representatives from law enforcement agencies, media organisations, the Judiciary and the Parliament/National Assembly in order to improve the press freedom situation in their respective countries;
- Collaborate with other relevant stakeholders to produce safety guidelines for journalists and media professionals.
Journalists/Media Owners should
- Be guided by the highest standards of professional and ethical conduct in their reportage;
- Provide safety tools to journalists working in high risk areas;
- Pursue all attacks against their journalists and pursue such attacks to their logical conclusion.
AFEX urges the Government of South Sudan and all governments across the continent to implement the aforementioned recommendations where applicable towards ensuring reduced incidents of attacks against journalists and media professionals and an overall improved media environment in their respective countries.
Stakeholders present at the Dialogue included representatives from:
South Sudan’s Media Authority
Ministry of Information, Telecommunication and Postal Services
The South Sudanese National Police
Specialized Standing Committee on Information of the Parliament
Office of Information Commissioner
Civil Society Organisations
Development Partners and the Diplomatic Community
Media Organizations and Outlets
Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS)
The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX)