14 April 2011 – To press its case for enacting three long-pending press bills on freedom of expression, the public's right to information and an independent regulatory body, a southern media association hosted a public hearing yesterday at Nyakuron Cultural Centre in Juba.
The Association for Media Development in Southern Sudan (AMDISS) feels these bills should be amended and enacted before the 10 Southern Sudanese states become an independent nation on 9 July.
The briefing was attended by government officials, a representative of the London-based human rights organization Amnesty International, members of local civil society organizations and the general public.
AMDISS Executive Director Hakim Dario Moi told the audience that the three bills were being reviewed by the Ministry of Legal Affairs and Constitutional Development (MoLACD) of the Government of Southern Sudan (GoSS). They were expected to be submitted to the Southern Sudan Legislative Assembly (SSLA) in coming weeks.
In a written statement, Mr. Moi called for passage of the media legislation because the proposed laws would create "a framework that protects and empowers the media and promotes the development of professional journalism in the print, electronic and broadcast sectors of the soon-to-be Republic of South Sudan".
In his view, those news media should conform "in all respects with international standards of best practice".
Earlier in the week, Mr. Moi briefed members of the SSLA on the pending bills which would establish an autonomous Southern Sudan Broadcasting Corporation for state-run electronic media, enshrine the public's right to information from government ministries and agencies and establish an independent regulatory authority to consider allegations of libel and other media malpractices as civil cases and not as criminal offenses.
"You will agree with me that there was press censorship in the Sudan simply because of a lack of political will, (a lack of) democratic transformation and (the lack of) accountability by the government officials," said Mr. Moi at Nyakuron Cultural Centre on Wednesday. "As a result, Sudan continues to use the Criminal Procedure Act of 1991 to restrict media operation across the region."
"We therefore believe that if Southern Sudan wants to be exceptional, it must provide for an independent media to allow for (its) democratic transformation," he added.
The media bills were initially drafted and presented to the SSLA in 2008. But the legislation later underwent significant modifications by the MoLACD that drew criticism from AMDISS Chairman Jacob Akol.
Mr. Akol then sought intervention in 2009 from GoSS President Salva Kiir Mayardit, who ordered the withdrawal of the bills from the SSLA for further revision by the MoLACD.