| JUBA, July 10
JUBA, July 10 South Sudan's parliament has
passed two bills to improve press freedom, an official said on
Wednesday, a move reporters in the African country hope will
strengthen their rights in the face of regular harassment by the
Journalists in South Sudan, which seceded from Sudan in
2011, often complain of obstruction and arbitrary detention by
the security forces, a loose conglomeration of former militias
from decades of civil war with Khartoum.
Reporters said it remained to be seen how the plans - under
discussion for more than five years - would be enforced by a
government made up largely of former guerrilla commanders who
are used to acting with impunity and dislike any scrutiny.
The first of the two bills approved by the national assembly
grants every citizen the right to information unless it poses a
threat to national security or someone's privacy, said Louis
Baptist from the ministry of parliamentary affairs.
The second bill, approved late on Monday, sets up an
independent body overseeing press coverage and dealing with any
complaints, said Baptist, adding that both bills would be sent
this week to President Salva Kiir for his signature.
"The bills are very, very important to the development of
journalism in South Sudan," said Alfred Taban, editor of the
daily Juba Monitor who was detained in May for running a report
accusing a deputy minister of killing a police officer.
Taban said the new media body would deal with any future
complaints, not the police as previously.
Other journalists struck a more cautious note.
"It's definitely a step forward but we have to see...
whether the security forces respect the new media authority,"
said one senior journalist who asked not to be identified.
Also, South Sudan's court system is notoriously inefficient
as few laws have been approved yet and judges still need to be
Last month, authorities in a central region of the country
suspended a Catholic radio station for several days after it
investigated the suspicious death of a prisoner.
This year, South Sudan slipped 13 places to 124 out of 179
countries on a press freedom index compiled by the media
watchdog Reporters Without Borders.
(Writing by Ulf Laessing; Editing by Gareth Jones)