South Sudan’s media rights groups condemned the comments of a prominent member of parliament who said news organizations could revoke their licenses if they reported on parliamentary expenditure – including MPs’ salaries – without prior authorization from the speaker. .
Paul Yuane Bonju, the nominated chairman of the Information Committee in South Sudan’s reconstituted National Legislative Assembly, said journalists could be prosecuted if they did not follow due process for reporting on MPs’ financial transactions.
“Some [reporters] are new to the field and if they go to Parliament then I need to get them on board by trying to explain the correct procedure to them, because Parliament is a body that makes laws,” he said at a press conference last week.
“If you’re coming to engage with this kind of body, you also need to know how to go about it,” Bonju said. “In some instances, some media, instead of coming to me or going to the clerk’s office, sometimes they contact employees, or they receive information from sources that are not authorized to release certain information.”
Bonju cited media reports from five years ago that President Salva Kiir had allocated about $40,000 for allowances and car loans to lawmakers.
Reports about the allocation caused a widespread backlash in the world’s newest country, where the government owes the salaries of many employees and the average teacher earns less than $400 a year.
Media groups say Bonju’s comments are an attempt to hide information from the public as South Sudan seeks to create an unstable democracy.
Michael Dooku, executive director of the Media Development Association in South Sudan, said parliamentary members cannot prevent the media from reporting on their work that is in the public interest.
“The media is governed by law and when it comes to classified information, there is classified information and unclassified information,” Dooku told VOA’s South Sudan in Focus. “As long as it falls under unclassified information, the public has a right to know.”
Bonju’s remarks come at a time when South Sudanese journalists are facing increasing pressure over their reporting.
Three journalists were recently detained, and a radio station was shut down as the government halted attempts by activists to stage a peaceful public uprising.
Agents also took a government broadcaster into custody after it allegedly refused to report news about recent presidential orders on the South Sudan Broadcasting Corporation airwaves.
South Sudan ranks 139th out of 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders, with 1 being the most independent.
The reconstituted legislature was inaugurated in August this year by Keir under the leadership of Gemma Nunu Kumba as Speaker of the House.
In an interview with South Sudan in Focus, Bonju said his comments were intended to clarify parliamentary procedures for press coverage.
“I was telling them, ‘Look, I’m not warning you, but I’m just cautioning you to make sure that if you want to do something with MPs’ salaries, please go to the relevant offices, the departments concerned. contact,” he said. said.