World Bulletin / News Desk
Most journalists in war-torn South Sudan, a country where inflation is said to be close to 900 percent, are earning even less than security guards.
In fact, it is estimated that the majority of people with jobs are now poorer than they were three years ago. Also, the South Sudanese pound in which they get paid in has dropped 90 percent of its value since the country gained independence in 2011.
Oliver Modi, a South Sudanese veteran journalist and chairman of South Sudan Union of Journalists, said the situation of media men and women in the country was dire.
"Some security guards at financially stable companies get better salaries than local journalists, it is tough," Modi said.
Moreover, journalists in South Sudan were being exploited by their employers, he said, adding the prevailing situation was creating not only below par levels of professionalism, but a hatred for the profession itself by media practitioners.
"For instance, The Juba Monitor, South Sudan’s leading newspaper pays its journalists just about 4,000 South Sudanese pounds [around $45] per month," Modi said.
The salary is even worse for government-funded media outlets, which pay their reporters 1,000 pounds (approximately $15) per month, he added.
But then even such a pittance is considered a fortunate deal by some in South Sudan, where tens of thousands of people have died and 2.4 million people forced from their homes since conflict broke out in December 2013.
An additional one million people have been pushed below the poverty line in what was already one of the poorest countries in the world, according to observers.
Even though a fragile peace agreement was signed in August 2015, violence continues and 4.3 million people are in need of urgent humanitarian aid, a figure that is expected to increase in the coming months.
Media outlets shutting down
An economic collapse exacerbated by four years of civil war in South Sudan has resulted in the closure of scores of businesses and the loss of jobs has not spared the country’ s media sector. At least 20 media houses have been shut down so far.
Alfred Taban, chairman of the Association for Media Development in South Sudan, said: “Media houses especially prints have been affected by the crashing economy currently facing the country.”
Alfred said the cost of printing newspapers has more than doubled due to the economic meltdown.
The situation now looks grim, especially for the print media in the country. “Most of print media in the country closed down last year due to high costs of operation,” he said.
The country’s biggest newspaper Juba Monitor is entrenching. In the past three years, circulation has dwindled from 4,000 to 1,500. The paper could fold if a buyer is not found soon, the paper’s Editor, Anna Nimiriano, revealed.
“We were printing 4,000 [copies] in 2013 until we reduced it to 2,500 copies but now we print 1,500 because of this increased printing cost,” Nimiriano said.
At least 15 newspapers, two radio stations and three TV stations in South Sudan have been shut down since March 2014, according to a source close to the media industry. More than 300 jobs have vaporized in that time, the source added.
There used to be seven dailies and four weekly English language newspapers as well as six Arabic newspapers, but now there are just three English dailies and an Arabic paper left in the market.
Early last year, most newspapers were selling a copy at 10 pounds ($1.5) each, but now a copy sells for 25 pounds ($2.5).
Commenting on the closure of media houses, Deputy Information Minister Akol Paul Kordit said the current environment in the country was not favorable and many media houses had been shut down due to financial constraints.
Kordit said more opportunities for foreign investors to invest in the sector were needed for the media industry to remain viable.
Media analyst Odongo Odoyo said it was unfortunate the media was failing to cope with economic hardships.
“For the industry to remain viable, the government must support it and offer incentives through tax concessions to media players and by reducing taxes,” Odongo said.
The media should find a common ground, define structural framework and policies of the industry in a sustainable and viable way.
Dhal Malual, a reporter with The Dawn Newspaper, said apart from economic hardships, journalists like him also had to deal with the fragile security situation in the country.
"You know, it is hard to work as a journalist in South Sudan. Security personnel are not oriented about the work of journalists," Malual said.
“When they learn you are a journalist, they term you as ‘Enemy of the state’,” he added.
In a report titled "Getting Away with Murder" by the Committee to Protect Journalists in October 2016, South Sudan was ranked fifth in the index after Somalia, Iraq, Syria and The Philippines.
According to the CPJ report, local journalists covering politics and war get targeted for murder. It highlighted a case from January 2015 when "five journalists were shot, attacked with machetes and set on fire in an ambush in Western Bahr al Ghazal state."