Media and Telecommunications Landscape Guide - South Sudan, August 2017

from REACH Initiative, CDAC Network
Published on 31 Aug 2017 View Original


In the rapidly changing context of South Sudan, accurate and timely information can save lives as people can be warned to flee, hide or regroup. Information also plays a crucial role in directing people toward appropriate humanitarian assistance.

In South Sudan, humanitarian organizations are already trying to harness existing communication channels to connect with disaster affected communities, for example through radio and SMS messaging. In order to choose the appropriate channels to do so and to improve two-way communication mechanisms and their overall Communication with Communities (CwC), humanitarian actors need to understand what communication channels are used and trusted by disaster affected communities.

In spite of the relative abundance of high quality media assessments in South Sudan, REACH identified three main information gaps in existing secondary sources regarding:

1) Site-specific data regarding information and news access and trust in some displacement sites

2) Information and news access and trust in hard-to-reach areas of South Sudan

3) The use of traditional communication forms in emergency in South Sudan

To help bridging the gap, REACH and Internews conducted an assessment on the way displaced populations and the local populations in hard-to-reach areas access and process news information in sudden onset emergency situations, with a strong focus on how internally displaced persons (IDPs) interact with news sources. REACH also explored the understudied topic of traditional forms of communication in South Sudan in order to produce a secondary data source for humanitarian actors who are interested in exploring how to incorporate traditional forms of communication as part of their two-way communication efforts.

The methodology of the assessment involved 7,629 quantitative surveys administered to IDPs about access to news and information sources in displacement sites (December-May 2017) as well as remote data collection with 1,344 key informants (KIs) who had recent knowledge on attitudes and habits regarding news access in hard-toreach settlements of Unity, Jonglei, Upper Nile and Western Bahr al Ghazal (June 2017). The selection of these states was made based on access and on trends in the conflict at the time of project inception, and adapted to reflect evolving trends in the Bahr al Ghazals area. Moreover, REACH conducted 41 Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) on emergency news access and traditional communication in the 3 states of Greater Upper Nile with a total of 189 participants (January-April 2017) and completed KI interviews with the managers of 71 media outlets of South Sudan (March-May 2017). Data collected was further triangulated through a secondary data review (SDR) of the media and telecommunications landscape of South Sudan. Since KIs were purposively selected, it is important to note that the sample is not statistically generalizable to the assessed population. However, the quantity of data collected means the results are highly indicative of the situation in assessed communities.

Section 1: Media & telecommunications landscape overview

Decades of conflicts have prevented the development of media and telecommunications infrastructures and have destroyed most of the little infrastructure that once existed. 1 A 2015 survey commissioned by Internews found that 34% of the population of accessible areas of South Sudan had never had access to radio, television, newspapers, internet or mobile phones at all.

Overview of media and telecommunications sectors

  • Radio: The SDR conducted by REACH found that the radio is the most widely accessed mass communication channel in South Sudan and that the country counts on strong networks of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and Government-funded radio as well as initiatives undertaken by religious organizations.

  • Television (TV): The SDR found that households rarely own a TV set and the only available channel outside of satellite television is the state-owned South Sudan Television (SSTV).

  • Newspapers: According to SDR findings, the sector is shrinking due to the inability to reach readers outside of urban areas, rising operating costs and political pressures. Newspapers appear to be the preserve of an educated elite. In 2015, Internews found that 10% of the population of accessible areas of South Sudan read a newspaper on a weekly basis.

  • Internet: Access is very low or non-existent in rural areas where humanitarian organizations are operating.

  • Mobile communication: Secondary data shows that penetration remains comparatively low relative to other East African countries. However, corporate actors have invested in basic infrastructures and preferred modes of interpersonal communication are partly shifting from face-to-face to mobile.

Main media development actors in South Sudan

  • Association for Media Development in South Sudan (AMDISS)

  • Association for Women in Media in South Sudan (AMWISS)

  • BBC Media Action

  • Catholic Radio Network.

  • Internews

  • Union of Journalists in South Sudan (UJOSS)

  • United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO)

In the context of the current conflict, communication appears to be increasingly perceived as sensitive and potentially threatening by various parties to the conflict. Existing infrastructure has been altered and media outlets are often intimidated by actors looking to better control flows of information.

Section 2: Communication in emergency

The communication habits of IDPs in assessed displacement sites were found to be heavily contingent on sitespecific circumstances (lack of phone network, destruction of radio infrastructures, etc.) but also more generally on language and literacy, and on low general levels of trust in various news channels. IDPs generally appear to rely mostly on information received from persons that they know through face-to-face interactions or on the phone.

Data collected by REACH showed that men and women in displacement sites do not have drastically different habits and attitudes regarding information access. One difference that stands out, however, is that women who primarily access news through direct interaction (on the phone or face-to-face) are less likely than men to receive news from an external source (aid workers, community leaders, local authorities). In effect, 69% of them reported relying primarily on friends and family for news, whereas 56% of men reported the same. In FGDs, many women reported that women tend to receive the news last.

In spite of the poor state of telecommunication infrastructure in South Sudan, the most frequently reported primary barriers to trustworthy news access are actually social in nature. In effect, language remains the primary barrier most reported by IDPs (29%), with lack of trust (24%) and illiteracy (12%) also affecting access to trustworthy information for large segments of the population.

News and information channels and sources

  • Quantitative surveys administered in various displacement sites across South Sudan showed that the main news and information channel of IDPs are direct ‘in person’ interaction (29%) and the radio (29%), followed by the phone (21%). In hard to reach areas, 43% of assessed settlements reported relying primarily on direct communication in person, followed by the radio (21%) and the phone (18%).

  • Other news and information channels such as the internet and the TV were found to be used very little overall (7% and 2%), although a closer examination of site-specific data shows exceptions regarding the use of internet, with 17% of surveyed IDPs in Akobo and 27% in the Juba Protection of Civilians (PoC) site citing it as their primary news channel (see annexes).

  • The amount of IDPs whose main channel to access news and information is the printed press is extremely low overall (0.2% of IDPs use newspapers as their primary news source overall in the assessed settlements). Newspapers penetrate very little beyond urban areas but even in Juba, where newspapers are more readily available, IDPs rely very little on them (1% IDPs use newspapers as their main news source in PoC site 1 and 2% in PoC site 3). The scarcity of Nuer language publications and high levels of illiteracy partly explain these results as most of the IDPs speak primarily Nuer.

  • Radio Miraya is the radio station cited most frequently by IDPs who use the radio as their primary news source (22%). Radio Miraya is one of the only stations that is available across most surveyed IDP sites. In specific sites, local radios (often NGO-supported) are often more popular, for example Mingkaman FM in Jonglei.

  • The loudspeaker was found to be the most popular channel of news and information of IDPs in the Juba PoC site 1 (32%) and the second most popular in Juba PoC site 3 (20%), after the radio (39%).The Boda Boda Talk Talk initiative is present in both areas, suggesting that this NGO initiative addresses a clear gap in these locations.

  • Of IDPs who indicated that their primary channel to access news and information was direct interaction (‘in person’ and ‘on phone’), 65% indicated that they were receiving the information from friends and relatives. In addition, 15% indicated that they rely on information coming from community or religious leaders, 8% rely on aid workers and 7% on local authority.

Trust in news and information

  • The channel of news and information that is most trusted by IDPs who use it as a primary channel is the phone (70% trust it ‘a lot’ and 27% trust it ‘a little’), followed by the internet (45% trust it a lot, 41% trust it a little) and the radio (44% trust it ‘a lot’, 45% trust it ‘a little’).

  • Findings from FGDs indicate that distrust in mass news and information channels such as the radio is often caused by a perceived gap between broadcasted content and the reality on the ground.

  • FGDs have revealed that since the beginning of the conflict some of the participants no longer rely on news unless they, or someone that they trust, have witnessed the reported event first-hand, as they have reportedly been deceived in the past by information broadcasted on the radio or reported by persons deemed unreliable.

  • During FGDs, one of the most frequently cited emergency news source was gunshot. FGD participants explained that gunshots are not only used in the context of active combat, but also to communicate information about an imminent threat with members of the community.

Barriers to news and information access

  • The most frequently cited barrier to news access in IDP displacement sites is a mismatch between the language in which information is available and the language spoken by the IDP. Lack of trust (30%) and language (19%) are the most reported primary barriers to news access in the assessed hard-to-reach settlements of Unity, Western Bahr al Ghazal, Upper Nile and Jonglei.

  • The Juba PoC site 3 is the displacement site where illiteracy is the most frequently cited main barrier to news access (22%).

  • Language is most frequently cited as a main barrier to news access (73%) in the Juba PoC site 1.

Section 3: Traditional modes of communication

Displacement increases demand for portable communication devices such as mobile phones and internet as communities are dispersed and people need to communicate with loved ones and to access reliable news and information sources across long distances. Given barriers to access for such devices (cost, lack of electricity, lack of network), some South Sudanese rely fully on traditional forms of communication that allow communities to identify and communicate threats such as sending runners to the neighbouring communities, performing war songs, displaying smoke signals and crying or shouting loudly to alert about a threat or an unfortunate event. These forms of traditional communication were reported to be useful to mobilize communities against threats.

Nevertheless, displacement can also create further barriers to the use of these traditional forms of communication, for example due to the temporary dissolution of the communities who share these communication forms. Even when the communities stay together, some of the communication channels (the drum, cow horn, etc.) are not accessible to IDPs during displacement due to logistical challenges.

  • The main forms of traditional communication used in South Sudan are cattle horn blowing, drum beating, smoke signals, war songs and dances, networks of screaming/crying women (ululation) and sending runners.

  • Cattle horn blowing, drum beating, smoke signals, war songs and dances, and networks of screaming/crying women are reported to be heavily coded forms of communication conveying specific messages that are often instinctively understood by the communities based on a shared understanding of their codes.