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AMDISS trains judges on media laws, protection of journalists

AMDISS—26 May 2021, Juba

The Association for Media Development in South Sudan [AMDISS] in collaboration with the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization [UNESCO] organized a two-day workshop for judges on enhancing the understanding of media laws and freedom of expression at AMDISS premises on Tuesday [26 May 2021].

Speaking during the opening session, the UNESCO Country Representative, Julius Banda said the freedom of expression is a driver of all the sustainable development goals.

Mr. Julius Banda stressed the importance of upholding the freedom of expression and safety of journalists to fast-track the implementation of developmental projects in South Sudan.

“We believe that if a society is free; if people are free to express their views without fear of prosecution, if the media is independent, free and journalists act freely without any sort of censorship or fear from prosecution, the society will be able to come to a consensus on the issues of development in the areas of health, education, infrastructure, accountability, and rule of law. If people are able to express their views in all these areas, you’re creating an enabling environment for sustainable development,” Banda said.

He disclosed that UNESCO was working very hard with many development actors to promote Article-19 and all the rights attached to it.

The universal declaration of human rights states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

Julius Banda disclosed that the UNESCO’s global approach is to build alliances with the other arms of the government in promoting the freedom of expression and the alliance that it will build with the judiciary to safeguard the media practitioners from rights violators.

“The judges hold in their hands the power to enforce the law and therefore, we believe we need to have this direct conversation that we are continuing to have on implications of defending these rights,” he added.

According to Julius Banda, one of the areas that need improvement in the media laws of South Sudan is the area of defamation. He stressed that the defamation case should be a civil matter to safeguard journalists from rights violators.

“We believe according to the international standards that defamation should not be under the criminal law but it should be part of the civil matters because we believe that the government should not be policing what people say or do to each other but rather if someone is offended and if there is indeed a case, it should go under court as a civil matter. This is the best practice that we see from the international standard and that is what we are discussing with the media authority and with the ministry of justice,” he said.

As the country is transitioning to a permanent constitution, a process that was launched yesterday [May 25, 2021] by the head of state, Mr. Julius Banda hopes that the freedom of expression will continue to be enshrined in the new constitution.

He also expressed a hopeful note that the bill of rights will remain as a constitutional matter and as the country goes into the next constitution; the right to education and all the other rights will be protected by the supreme constitution of the Republic of South Sudan.

He hinted that UNESCO considers the media to be the fourth estate of government and that the constitutional process would be looking at the balance of power between the three main arms of the government; the executive, the parliament, and the judiciary.

“We hope that the judiciary would be independent as the international standard requires but also we hope to see the independence of the judiciary is being maintained in the constitution,” he further added.

He said UNESCO looks to the judiciary as an ally to enforce the laws to protect the rights of journalists especially when it comes to their safety.

“The freedom of expression is a constitutional right; it is part of the international declaration of human rights and therefore, it is an important right that needs to be protected. We take a multi-stakeholder approach in tackling issues of freedom of expression, press freedom, and safety of journalists because there are many actors,” he said.

On his part, the President of the Court of Appeal for Greater Equatoria Circuit, Justice Stephen Simon appealed to the newly appointed lawmakers to exert their efforts in formulating laws that promote the virtue of justice, peace, and equality in the country.

Justice Simon acknowledged the role of media in educating and sensitizing the people of South Sudan on matters of public interest.

“For us in the judiciary, we are mandated to see the cases when people have disputes. This is our duty. Education of our people on the issues of public interest is a key thing for South Sudan to come out from the anarchy we are in. Here, media plays a very central role in educating and sensitizing our people. I would like to thank AMDISS for facilitating this workshop. If there is a chance for educating judges, we are ready,” Justice Simon said.

The Executive Director of AMDISS, Mr. Michael Duku Aggrey advised the judges to familiarize themselves with the media laws and use the laws as a reference to the cases involving the journalists to avoid criminalization of journalists.

Michael Duku extended his appreciation to Chief Justice Chan Reec Madut and Justice Benjamin Baak Deng, the director for training and research at the Supreme Court for allowing twenty judges to participate in the follow-up workshop on enhancing understanding of the media laws and freedom of expression to improve the image of the country.

“Issues to do with media crimes and prosecution have been happening in this country. The media laws were signed in 2013 and up to now, there are a lot of media violations happening in the media sector and we need to work together to address this matter. We have very good laws in the country but the implementation of these laws is lacking. We need the judges to help us in the interpretation of the media laws,” Duku said.

Speaking in the same occasion, the Interim Chairperson of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan, Mr. Oliver Modi appealed to the judges to help in the protection of journalists through the application of media laws.

Oliver Modi asked the judiciary to recognize the media as the fourth arm of the governance in the country.

“Media played a commendable role during and after the liberation struggle. I would like to register my appeal to the parliament to endorse the media as the fourth arm of the governance to accelerate development and nation-building,” he said.