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Print Media Outlets Struggle to Survive in South Sudan

FILE - A man reads a copy of the Juba Monitor, Aug. 21, 2015 in Juba, South Sudan. The paper is still in operation but is not thriving.

South Sudan had a vibrant print media when it separated from Sudan in 2011, with 34 newspapers and six magazines in circulation.

Today, there are only five newspapers left. Most publishers trying to establish a foothold do not last long enough to celebrate their first anniversary.

Several newspaper owners blame the country's economic crisis for their downfall. Charles Rehan, founder of the defunct Juba Post, told VOA's South Sudan in Focus that his paper failed to survive more than two years because of a lack of materials needed to publish the paper.

"We printed newspapers in Khartoum, and when South Sudan separated from Khartoum, we went to print in Uganda. When you bring newspapers from Uganda, the newspaper will come late,” and that affected the paper’s ability to grow, Rehan said.

Future of print

A lack of newspapers could hurt South Sudan's future, Rehad said. Journalists serve an important function, he said, when they ask questions, investigate wrongdoing and force government officials to address the problems facing the country.

"If there is something going wrong, the journalists will say, ‘This is wrong, this is the right direction.' But without newspapers, the country cannot develop at all," he said.

Thomas Manase, CEO of Brisker magazine, said South Sudan has a poor reading culture that limits the growth of print media.

"In South Sudan, young people don't like to pick up stuff to read and be informed," Manase told VOA. In addition, he said, businesses don't value advertising. "This has really affected our sales."

Brisker stopped printing after publishing just four issues. It can now be found online.

FILE - Stacks of South Sudanese newspapers sit on shelves in the office of the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) in Juba, in May 2019.
FILE - Stacks of South Sudanese newspapers sit on shelves in the office of the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS) in Juba, in May 2019.

Irene Ayaa, media development officer at the Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS), said many reporters and editors have abandoned journalism for better-paying careers with nongovernmental organizations.

"The salaries that they are getting are not motivating them to the standard that they have in terms of training," Ayaa told South Sudan in Focus.

A survey conducted by AMDISS found that the highest-paid journalists in South Sudan's print media earned roughly 40,000 South Sudanese pounds a month, the equivalent of $250, while the lowest-paid journalists received about 10,000 South Sudanese pounds a month, or $60.

She said since the pay is so low, it's not uncommon for journalists to accept money for transportation or lunch, which she believes can affect a journalist's objectivity.

Threats against media

She also said that threats, harassment and intimidation of the media by security operatives have forced some journalists to leave their work and seek safety in neighboring countries.

But overall, it's South Sudan's ailing, post-civil war economy that's the culprit. Alison Ismail, chief executive officer of the Star Tribune, said the hard economic times in South Sudan forced him to close his newspaper last year.

"Nothing will make me to jeopardize or put myself at risk of doing business when I am going to lose every day," Ismail declared, saying he would reopen his paper only after the economy picked up.

Oliver Modi, head of the Union of Journalists in South Sudan, said he thought many print media operators in South Sudan failed because of bad management.

He said most newspaper owners don't do market research before launching their operations. "They don't have a strategic plan and proper budget to sustain their newspapers," Modi said.

A handful of newspapers have stayed alive. Anna Nimiriano, editor in chief of the Juba Monitor, said her paper was surviving, but just barely.

"What is helping us is advertisement and sales," Nimiriano told South Sudan in Focus.

"If we follow the footsteps of others, there will be no print media in South Sudan," she added.

Still, Nimiriano is hopeful. "If there is peace, everything will be stable," she told VOA.