Study Reveals Barriers Faced by South Sudanese Media in Covering LGBTQI+ Issues
Journalists in South Sudan face obstacles in covering LGBTQI+ issues, partly due to cultural myths and the opposition of government officials and religious leaders.-Garang Abraham Malak.
South Sudan: Imagine bringing up covering an LGBTQI+-related story with your family or fellow media professionals.
In South Sudan, where gender and sexual diversity are viewed as no-go areas for journalists and other media producers due to a lack of knowledge about the subject, cultural stigma, concern over government repercussions, and newsroom resistance, it takes a great deal of enthusiasm and some courage to launch such a pitch or idea, writes Garang Abraham Malak.
Popular religious and political figures who actively oppose LGBTQI+ equality and inclusion frequently make these problems worse.
South Sudanese bishop Abraham Mayom Athiaan led a split from the Episcopal Church of Sudan in 2006 because he believed the church's leadership had failed to vehemently condemn homosexuality.
The autonomous government of Southern Sudan adopted its own Penal Code in 2008, which makes it illegal to engage in "carnal intercourse against the order of nature," punishable by a fine and a prison term of up to ten years.
Salva Kiir Mayardit, the current president of South Sudan, talked about establishing a country with equal rights, democracy, and justice in 2010. He falsely claimed that there are no gay people in South Sudan and claimed that if homosexuality were to be "brought into the country," it would be "condemned by everyone."
According to Kiir, homosexuality is not in the character of South Sudanese people and is not a subject that members of the general public should discuss.
Even though South Sudan gained independence from Sudan on July 9, 2011, it continues to be governed by Sudan's interpretation of Sharia law, which imposes severe penalties for same-sex acts, including the death penalty.
South Sudan’s 2011 Passports and Immigration Act, Section 15 on Refusal or Cancellation of Visa states: “Without prejudice to the provisions of Section (14) above, a visa shall not be granted to an alien who - (6) is reasonably suspected to be entering South Sudan for the purposes of prostitution, homosexuality, lesbianism, or human trafficking.”
South Sudanese Anglican Bishop Justin Badi Arama expressed his opposition to same-sex marriage during an interview with the state broadcaster SSBC in July 2022. According to Bishop Arama, same-sex marriage is "a sinful curse that could provoke God's anger."
Before the Anglican Church Leaders Conference in the UK in 2021, Bishop Arama called for prayers and support for his delegation as they prepared to challenge western churches to uphold biblical integrity.
Upon returning from the conference, Bishop Arama told reporters at Juba International Airport that, “On behalf of the people of South Sudan, I have raised my voice that we cannot accept same-sex practice within the Anglican Communion and within the church. I have told the world that we should embrace biblical authority within the Anglican Communion to live our lives and to order our faith in accordance with the Bible.”
In a policy paper published by the Swedish Government Agency for Development (Sida), it is noted that South Sudan lacks anti-discrimination and hate crime legislation to shield LGBTQI+ individuals from abuse and harassment based on their sexual orientation and/or gender identity.
Furthermore, in South Sudan, there is no legislation regarding gender recognition or other rights for transgender or intersex individuals who may wish to change their legal documents.
Why Less Media Coverage
Some of the barriers keeping journalists from covering LGBTQI+ issues in South Sudan can be attributed to the aforementioned cultural myths and government officials’ and religious leaders' positions.
These factors align with the results of a recent survey conducted by South Sudanese researcher and media professional Garang Abraham, which showed that South Sudanese media practitioners tend to avoid covering LGBTQI+ issues due to cultural and political anxieties.
50 journalists from various media institutions in South Sudan participated in the study. Among them, 28 percent were from Jonglei, 12 percent were from Eastern Equatoria State, 16 percent were from Central Equatoria State, 16 percent were from Upper Nile and Unity States, 8 percent were from Northern Bahr-el-Ghazel State, and 4 and 3 percent were from Warrap and Lakes State, respectively.
Additionally, 6 percent were from Western Equatoria, Pibor, and Abyei Administrative Areas, among other states in the country.
Findings in Text and Charts
Familiarity with LGBTQI+ letters and experience covering LGBTQI+ issues
How often do you read about LGBTQI+ issues?
What barriers do you face when covering LGBTQI+ issues in South Sudan?
What needs to be addressed so that media professionals in South Sudan can more accurately cover LGBTQI+ issues?
UJOSS’s Reactions to the Findings
Mr. Oyet Patrick, the President of the Union of Journalists in South Sudan (UJOSS), remarked on the research findings, stating that South Sudan's media has shifted its focus away from LGBTQI+ concerns due to several factors. These factors include low capacity, fear of the government, ongoing conflict, and related humanitarian issues.
Oyet also cited inadequate funding and the absence of robust organizations on the ground to carry out events as contributing to the gaps in reporting.
“I can admit that there has been less coverage on this topic, and this is because of low capacity. Secondly, issues around culture makes it hard for journalists to write on such, simply because media practitioners feel there could be repercussions, they can lose their trust from the audience, and public concern whether the topic is a major concern currently,” Oyet said.
“The issue of LGBTQI+ is out of the constitution and that makes it hard for journalists to write or talk about this particular topic.”
Additionally, Oyet expressed that UJOSS is open to collaborations aimed at enhancing the capacity of journalists in areas related to advancing comprehensive human rights for all individuals.
Oyet said: “As UJOSS, we are one of the institutions that promote human rights. Our mandates seek to protect journalists, promoting professionalism and the welfare of journalists. The media is the mirror of society, and by and large, we at UJOSS support, defend, and promote human rights in a way that includes everybody.
“And, thus as UJOSS, we shall be always open to receiving support to build capacity and sensitize journalists on such support. However, there will always be one problem, and that is the government, because if we want to do something, you can’t do what is outside the policies of the government.”
Great analysis. Congratulations Garang
Insightful analogy. Congratulations Garang Abraham Malak