JUBA, South Sudan – South Sudan has suspended a United Nations radio station for allegedly refusing to comply with the country's media laws, although the station has not yet been taken off the air.
On Friday, the Media Authority, an independent body charged with regulating journalistic practices in the country, said it was shutting down Radio Miraya for "persistent non-compliance." They said the radio station was "not immune" to oversight.
"Radio Miraya opted not be regulated or questioned. They are operating in an environment of their own but they operate in the Republic of South Sudan where there are laws that need to be observed," said Elijah Alier, the Media Authority's managing director at a press conference.
Alier said they're not trying to censor the station but rather they are monitoring it for "hate speech and incitement." The government may not be able to take the station off the air because the transmitter is on the U.N. base in Juba.
Amid South Sudan's 5-year civil war, which has killed tens of thousands and plunged parts of the country into famine, freedom of the press has also been under siege.
Last year, at least 20 members of the foreign press were prevented from entering or kicked out of South Sudan, according to the Foreign Correspondents' Association of East Africa. Local journalists have been detained, beaten, threatened and denied access to information and newspapers are censored, according to local media bodies.
Reporters without Borders ranked South Sudan 145th out of 180 in its 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
This is Radio Miraya's first suspension since it launched in 2006. The United Nations is in discussions with the government over the action and it intends to keep broadcasting, Francesca Mold, spokeswoman for the U.N. in South Sudan, told The Associated Press.
Under the Status of Forces Agreement, between the U.N. and South Sudan's government, the U.N. has the right to operate radio stations under its "exclusive control" and to convey information to the public relating to its mandate.
Civic groups are calling the suspension disturbing and are urging the Media Authority and the U.N. to "sort out their differences," said Edmund Yakani, Executive Director of the Community Empowerment for Progress Organization.
Since being formed more than a year ago, the Media Authority has been a reliable regulatory body, with the number of local journalists being arrested decreasing significantly, said Edward Terso, general secretary of the Union of Journalists of South Sudan.
However, he said closing a media outlet indefinitely "deprives the public of access to information" and he is calling on the Media Authority to find a balanced and amicable approach to the situation.
Alier, of the Media Authority says only when the U.N. complies with the law will the station be allowed to return to the airwaves. "They won't be on air until they cooperate," he said.