Melania Itto, program manager of Radio Bakhita, hosts the morning "Juba Sunrise" program in the station's studio in Juba, Southern Sudan. Radio Bakhita has been silent since Aug. 16 when South Sudan’s National Security Service stormed into the station and arrested its news editor. CNS photo/Paul Jeffrey

Catholic radio forced off air

By 
  • September 12, 2014

A Catholic Radio station in South Sudan that the Canadian bishops’ development agency hopes to support has been shut down for reporting both sides of a story.

Radio Bakhita has been silent since Aug. 16 when South Sudan’s National Security Service stormed into the station and arrested its news editor for balancing a news story about fresh fighting between government forces and supporters of former first vice president of South Sudan Riek Machar. A reporter for the station inter-viewed both government repre-sentatives and rebels.

There has been fighting in and around South Sudan’s capital of Juba since President Salva Kiir dismissed the entire cabinet in July 2013. On-again-off-again peace talks have dragged on since the beginning of 2014. Politics carried out by guns has pushed 1.7 million South Sudanese from their homes. The United Nations warns that fighting has pushed the four-year-old country to the edge of famine.

The Canadian Catholic Organization for Development and Peace has a proposal already submitted to the Department of Foreign Affairs Trade and Development to finance several devel-opment projects in North Africa, including support for Radio Bakhita.

“We are waiting for an answer, so we can’t really talk about it yet,” said D&P spokesperson Kelly Di Domenico.

Radio Bakhita’s director, Labino Tokwaro, apologized to the government for a report which quoted a rebel spokesperson. Rebels told Radio Bakhita listeners government troops attacked a rebel position in Unity state.

The report also quoted a Sudan People’s Liberation Army spokesperson saying the rebels attacked first.

The letter of apology freed news editor David Nicholas Ocen after four days in detention, but hasn’t resulted in permission to resume broadcasting.

As South Sudan’s civil war continues journalists suffer, according to the East Africa representative of the Committee to Protect Journalists. Tom Rhodes told Voice of America at least 10 South Sudan journalists have been threatened or detained so far this year.

It’s not the first time the Catholic radio station has faced censorship. Even before South Sudan voted for independence in January of 2011, the SPLA was trying to intimidate the politically neutral and independent station.

In 2008 the station’s first director, Camboni Missionary Sister Cecilia Sierra was hauled up before the SPLA minister of internal affairs and asked who gave the station a mandate to discuss politics. In 2010 a security official accompanied by a contingent of police invaded the station compound and ordered it closed.

As in much of Africa, radio is the most influential and important media in public life, available to rich and poor, literate and illiterate alike.

In addition to its news programing, Radio Bakhita broad-casts daily Mass, popular Gospel music, religious talk shows and advice for women. While the station is shut down, its journalists continue to post local, world, Church and sports news to its website www.bakhitaradio.org.

The station is owned by the Archdiocese of Juba. It is part of the Sudan Catholic Radio Network. It’s tag line is “A Voice That Speaks For Peace.” 

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