The US, UK, and Canada diplomats have echoed a call on all levels of the government of South Sudan to grantee free press.
As the world marks the 26th celebration of World Press Freedom Day, today, the diplomats said a free press is a vital tool in peacebuilding.
The World Press Freedom Day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in 1993 following a Recommendation adopted at the twenty-sixth session of UNESCO’s General Conference in 1991.
The global theme for this year is “Media for Democracy: Journalism and Elections in Times of Disinformation”.
It discusses current challenges faced by media in elections along with the media’s potential in supporting peace and reconciliation processes.
The day is used to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence, and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.
“The media….promotes transparency and accountability in government and I expect that role to grow as the peace process continue in South Sudan,” said the U.S Ambassador to South Sudan, Thomas Hushek.
He said the United States considers the press as an integral part of its democratic growth and space.
Free media is enshrined in the First Amendment of the American constitution which protects freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of the press, the right to assemble, and the right to petition the government.
It was part of the Bill of Rights that was added to the U.S Constitution on December 15, 1791.
“In the United States…. we have a free and vibrant press that is critical of those in power, whoever they may be. But there is no restriction or political threats for broadcasters or cable or internet. Nor does the United State have a method to censor its press and prevent stories from being published or broadcast,” Ambassador Hushek added.
The United Kingdom’s Deputy Head of Mission in South Sudan, Charles Moore, said it is nearly impossible for any peace agreement to succeed in the absence of free press, further saying that people rely on “media where they can trust people to report honestly, openly, quickly, and reliably on what is going on in this country.”
He urged the government to embrace free press rather than trying to curtail it.
“Trying to restrict something is actually straight forward. It is important that the government and the people of South Sudan….are well informed about the peace process, about development, about what is going right, what is going wrong, what is going slowly,” said Ambassador Moore.
For her part, Catherine Palmier, the Head of cooperation at the Canadian Embassy in Juba appeals to the authorities to facilitate the work of journalists by allowing them to access information meant for public consumption.
She said a transparent system of governance benefits everyone.
“They [journalists] must be allowed to facts freely and independently. If they are able to do their work meeting the highest level of professionalism, it benefits the government with issues that matter to the citizens so that it can meet their needs,” Palmier said.
“It also supports citizens who are then informed and have an opportunity to be engaged in the future,” she concluded.
South Sudan media professionals this week pushed the celebrations to Thursday in honor of Alfred Taban, a renowned media practitioner, activist and politician who passed away in Kampala on Saturday, April 2nd.
His body was transferred to Juba on World Press Freedom.
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