While former Information Minister Barnaba Marial Benjamin vowed that South Sudan will respect freedom of the press and allow journalist unrestricted access in the country, the chief editor of Juba newspaper The Citizen claimed that in the absence of a formal media law in the fledgling republic, he and his staff have faced abuse at the hands of security forces. This alleged fettering of media freedom was attributed in an Al Jazeera report to the difficulty SPLM has faced in reforming itself as a legitimate government after years of leading a rebellion against the Sudanese government. The Citizen is South Sudan’s largest newspaper, but poor infrastructure and poverty have kept its staff relatively small and limited the efficiency of both its reporting and its circulation outside of Juba, with no dedicated news bureaus in outlying states and newspapers often taking several days to reach states like Northern Bahr el Ghazal.
On 1 November 2011, South Sudan’s National Security Services (NSS) arrested the editor of a private Juba-based daily, Destiny, and suspended its activities indefinitely. This was in response to an opinion article by columnist Dengdit Ayok, entitled “Let Me Say So”, which criticized the president for allowing his daughter to marry an Ethiopian national, and accused him of “staining his patriotism”. An official letter accused the newspaper of breaking “the media code of conduct and professional ethics”, and of publishing “illicit news” that was defamatory, inciting, and invading the privacy of personalities. The Committee to Protect Journalists had voiced concerns over media freedoms in South Sudan in September. The NSS released the journalists without charge after having held them for 18 days.
In 2015, Salva Kiir threatened to kill journalists who reported “against the country”. Work conditions have become terrible for journalists, and many have left the country. Documentary filmmaker Ochan Hannington is one of them. In August 2015, after journalist Peter Moi was killed in a targeted attack, being the seventh journalist killed during the year, South Sudanese journalists held a 24-hour news blackout.
In August 2017, a 26-year-old American journalist, Christopher Allen, was killed in Kaya, Yei River State, during fighting between government and opposition forces. Christopher Allen was a freelance journalist who had worked for several U.S. news outlets. He had been reportedly embedded with the opposition forces in South Sudan for a week before he was killed. The same month, President Salva Kiir said the millions of civilians fleeing South Sudan were being driven by social media propaganda manned by those conspiring against his government. Just a month prior in July 2017, access to major news websites and popular blogs including Sudan Tribune and Radio Tamujuz had been blocked by the government without formal notice.