By staff writer,

AMDISS with support from UNESCO on Tuesday, 28 May 2024, conducted a two-day training workshop for security agencies on enhancing their understanding of the role of journalists, observance of media framework, access to information, and safety of journalists at the Tourists Hotel in Yambio, Western Equatoria State.

The training brought together 30 participants drawn from the Police, National Security, SSPDF, Prison Service, State Ministry of Information, and media houses to forge common ground to enhance their working relations, observance of media laws, freedom of expression, and access to information at the time the country prepares for first-ever polls scheduled for December this year.

Addressing the opening ceremony, the State Minister of Information and Communication, Hon. Isaac Mursal Timon advised the journalists to stick to their professional ethics and report accurately to avoid misinforming the public.

Minister Mursal disclosed that since the formation of the transitional government of national unity, and the appointment of Alfred Futuyo Karaba as governor, there has been no case of harassment, arrest, or intimidation of journalists in Western Equatoria State.

“Though there is no report of the arrest, torture, killing, harassment, and denial of access to information happens in Western Equatoria, still media personnel should be allowed to do their work like recording voices, taking pictures, and interview [their sources] without harassment,” Mursal said.

Mursal applauded AMDISS and UNESCO for bringing together journalists and organized forces to sit together and iron out their contentious issues to find an amicable solution.

“This workshop has come at the right time,” Mursal said. “It is important for media and security apparatus to know their borders to avoid misunderstanding. It is good for these two institutions to work together and enhance their working relationship. Journalists should collect the right information.”

“I am urging the security personnel attending this workshop to make sure that access to information is granted to the media and uphold the freedom of expression and media in Western Equatoria State. If there is no freedom of expression, the government will not benefit from the views of its people because the citizens fear to express their views.”

He affirmed the government’s readiness to work with the journalists and organized forces to serve the people of Western Equatoria State with accurate information to promote tangible development and peaceful coexistence in the state.

On her part, UNESCO Communication and National Information Specialist, Doreen Loboka urged the security officers to use the workshop to enhance their working relations with journalists, uphold the freedom of expression, and give unhindered access to information in line with the laws of the land.

“The workshop aims at raising awareness on legal framework but also on freedom of expression and access to information. We know that these rights are very fundamental for the success of our communities; they are fundamental for our development and democracy. When the citizens can access information, they can make decisions and they can educate and change their lives and change society at large.”

“When journalists have access to information, it makes it easy for them to report corruption and crimes. This is the reason we are holding this workshop especially for our security colleagues to understand that these rights are fundamental for us to make a change in our society. The security sector has a role to create a conducive environment for journalists to do their work and for citizens to get information that is of benefit for them.”

She appealed to the journalists to make use of the diverse local languages spoken in Western Equatoria State to communicate vital information to their audience across the state.

“I want to encourage you to continue making use of the mother tongues [vernaculars] in your programmings to pass designed messages and information for the people who do not understand English and Arabic,” she said.

Doreen said the safety of journalists cannot be tackled by one media-support institution, saying, it requires a collective effort from several institutions such as judiciary, security personnel, civil society, development partners, and so forth.

She urged the journalists to strictly observe the media laws and abide by the code of conduct and ethics of journalism to avoid negligence and falling into trouble because of poor reporting practices and the use of unverified information.

The Chairperson of AMDISS, Josephine Achiro commended the journalists and security agencies for coming together to dialogue among themselves to find solutions to and foster cooperation and collaboration in the area of information sharing and freedom of expression in the state.

Achiro reiterated the call on the security agencies to grant access to information for journalists to disseminate accurate and credible information to the public.

She said AMDISS struggles with settling so many issues affecting press freedom, access to information, freedom of expression, civic space, and media censorship in the country.

“We have issues of lack of information because some men and women in uniform block the access. They interfere with the access to information. Whenever they [military/police/NSS] see a journalist with a camera, immediately he/she would be arrested. So, bringing you together and men and women in formation and journalists in one room is to revive and strengthen your relationship,” Achiro said.

“We work jointly to serve this country,” she added; “ We work towards building a better South Sudan and so, I don’t think anybody working here would love to destroy the image of this country unless the person in question has his or her political interest and such kind of a person cannot be a journalist because we have the ethics, code of conduct and media laws that guide our practices.”

Achiro urged the authorities in Western Equatoria State to protect the journalists and give them unhindered access to information to build a better and informed society.

She said South Sudan has been shaken by propaganda, fake news, misinformation, disinformation, and hate speeches circulated through social media causing social divides and communal violence in many parts of the country.