In a Fledgling Country, Perils for the Press
By BENNO MUCHLER
Published: January 9, 2012
In a thatched hut in Juba, the capital of
uth-sudan/index.html?inline=nyt-geo> South Sudan, about 10 young men and
women sat on lawn chairs made of brown plastic. They loudly typed on the
computer keyboards on the tables in front of them. Two fans were blowing
heavily. But the loud humming, which turned all speaking in the room into
yelling, didn't come from them. It came from the backyard, and when it
suddenly stopped, the young people saved their work. Minutes later their
screens turned dark.
The Citizen's newsroom. The operation is powered by a generator in the
It was hours to deadline for <http://www.thecitizen.info/
> The Citizen,
until recently the only daily print newspaper in South Sudan, and its staff
had to wait until the generator was refueled.
Making a newspaper anywhere these days is not easy; making a daily newspaper
in South Sudan can seem nearly impossible. The country is twice the size of
Arizona and 80 percent of its roughly 10 million people are illiterate.
Power losses, a scarcity of paved roads, scattershot Internet access and
increasing tribal violence make it that much harder.
And yet since its founding in 2005 The Citizen hasn't let down its readers a
single day. But now the paper faces another challenge in the form of a new
military leadership - one not always hospitable to a free press - running
the world's youngest state, one that gained independence only last year. On
a morning in mid-November, a reporter named Ater Garang Ariath entered the
news hut where two of his colleagues were discussing the day's events. The
editor in chief, Nhial Bol, was elsewhere. He had other things to do: the
paper's supplier of newsprint had stopped supplying it, so The Citizen had
to decrease its circulation to 2,000 copies from 6,000.
That day, Mr. Ariath, 27, covered a dialogue forum for representatives of
the South Sudanese media and national security services. He walked the mile
to the event, since there was no bus stop nearby and a boda-boda, or
motorbike taxi, was too expensive for him. Mr. Ariath said he made about 900
South Sudanese pounds a month, around $300. He has to write up to 40
articles for that and supports his family with the money.
Mr. Ariath began his career as a reporter at the paper of his refugee camp
in neighboring Uganda. There is no one at The Citizen whose life hasn't been
affected by the war. Another reporter, Joseph Lagu Jackson, was a former
child soldier and learned how to use an AK-47 at the age of 8; the news
editor received death threats from the Arab rulers in the north when he was
a radio journalist.
Though Mr. Ariath is very proud to work for one of the country's most
popular papers, he said the 16-page, English-language tabloid needed more
editors. It is full of mistakes and typos, sometimes in the banner headline
on the front page. Many reporters are not fluent in English. Mr. Ariath also
said the paper needed more color. "In our pictures, Obama is white," he
Since independence on July 9, several newspapers have been newly established
in South Sudan. The country's new constitution guarantees freedom of the
press. But currently, that freedom is in jeopardy.
In October, another South Sudanese newspaper, The Destiny,
Itemid=6> ran a column that described the marriage of President Salva Kiir
Mayardit's daughter as unpatriotic because she had married an Ethiopian. The
columnist and the editor in chief were arrested by the National Security
Services and held in prison for two weeks. The Destiny was shut down.
President Kiir later said the arrests were justified. The Destiny had tried
to become South Sudan's second daily.
A few weeks later in December, Alfred Taban, a former BBC correspondent in
Khartoum, started the Juba Monitor which is now South Sudan's second English
daily. Mr. Taban's Khartoum Monitor was banned by the Arab rulers along with
five other South Sudanese owned newspapers printed in Khartoum when the
south became independent. The Juba Monitor is also printed at The Citizen
which is the only newspaper with a printing machine in South Sudan.
At the dialogue forum for the media and security services, both sides were
called on to get along with each other. But the event didn't seem to ease
tensions. A spokesman for the Sudan People's Liberation Army, or S.P.L.A. as
the new country's army is more popularly known, told reporters what they
could cover and what would be risky for them - a list that included covering
the army, for example. Philip Chol, a spokesman for military intelligence,
said: "If you're a responsible journalist, you will do something that is
applicable to the country."
Many reporters got angry. "The recent actions are actually the ones we
suffered from in Khartoum," said Mr. Taban, addressing the case of The
Destiny. "I mean we're trying to establish a democracy here."
Many of the reporters who had come to the event said they had had bad
experiences with the new military leaders who now ruled the country after
years of oppression by the regime in the north. Mr. Ariath said when he once
wrote about an official's business deals, he got a phone call. If the paper
ran the article, the person at the other end said, Mr. Ariath would get into
trouble. The Citizen ran the article. Mr. Ariath was not arrested, but the
editor in chief, Mr. Bol, was. Mr. Bol has been arrested three times since
2007 by South Sudanese authorities for articles that accused officials of
corruption and mismanagement.
At 1 a.m., well after the writing and editing in The Citizen's newsroom was
done, four young men sat in the pale light of battery-powered halogen lamps
inside the printing house next door. Listening to a smartphone playing
Arabic folk music, they folded fresh copies of the newspaper by hand because
the old German press couldn't fold them automatically.
At dawn, Juba's paperboys lined up in front of The Citizen. Some of them
read the paper. Mr. Ariath's article made it to the front page - with no
misplaced letter in the headline, just a comma: "Deputy Minister Calls for
Security, Media Cooperation."
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction:
Correction: January 8, 2012
A previous version of this article misstated the year in which South Sudan
gained independence. It was 2011, not this year.
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Received on Mon Jan 09 2012 - 17:04:39 EST