Radio is the #1 news source for South Sudanese, says a recent nationwide survey. The survey found that radio remains the most accessible, trusted, and widespread source of information for the vast majority of South Sudan’s people.

The survey, conducted by Internews, sampled 3300 individuals aged 16 and up across South Sudan’s 10 states. USAID, Foundation Hirondelle and BBC Media in Action have conducted similar studies with similar findings.

Some surveys of South Sudanese media have suggested that around 95 percent of South Sudan gets their news through radio. Other surveys put that rate at 74 to 93 percent. 70 percent of South Sudanese trust radio more than any other news sources, a rate followed only by word of mouth and churches or mosques.

South Sudan has 30 radio stations which broadcast a variety of views in a dozen languages: English, Arabic, Simple Arabic, Dinka, Nuer, Lutuka Lovo, Zandi, Madi, Muru, Bari, and Kuhu. In addition to privately owned stations, churches, community organizations, NGOs and state and local governments run radio networks in South Sudan. Radio is also received from neighbouring countries such as Nairobi and Sudan, and from further locations, such as the BBC, which maintains transmitters in South Sudan.

The use of radio is considered to be a social activity in South Sudan, but it also highlights South Sudan’s poverty and illiteracy.

Only 20 percent of South Sudanese use television, newspaper,s or the internet regularly. South Sudan has only one government-run Juba-based TV station.  This station broadcasts four to six hours a day in English and Arabic. The station runs smaller local TV stations in several locations as well. This single station has a regular viewership of 17 percent of the population of South Sudan.

Newspapers in South Sudan are printed mostly in English  Papers are printed mostly in Nairobi or Kampala and flown into South Sudan. English and Arabic are the national languages of South Sudan, but many people in rural locations understand neither of these languages, hence newspapers are read primarily by elite, urban citizens. Few copies reach rural areas.

There are two printing presses in South Sudan–one run by the government and one run by The Citizen daily newspaper. These two presses print the only daily papers in South Sudan. More common are bi-weekly newspapers flown into South Sudan, such as the Juba Post and the Sudan Mirror, and weeklies, such as The Star, the New Times, The Hero and The Pioneer. The Juba post has a circulation of 2000 and The Citizen 4400.

With a population of 8 million (2008 national house hold census survey) to 12 million (estimate of UN head in South Sudan Toby Lanzer), South Sudan has a literary rate of 27 percent. 40 percent literacy for males; 16 for females. These figures are according to the 2009 National Ministry of Education and UNESCO, and are suspected to be somewhat outdated.

Illiteracy is defined by the World Bank as The ability to read and write by age 15.

The world overall literacy rate is 84 percent: 89 percent for males and 80 percent for females. South Sudan has the lowest rate in the region, but Ethiopia also has a low rate, 39, as does Chad and the Central African Republic. Sudan, South Sudan’s northern neighbor, has a rate of 71 percent.

For point of comparison, Canada, the U.S., Australia, Japan and Europe have 100 percent or near 100 percent literacy.

In Sudan education is not available to many citizens.  Another problem is the disruption caused by prolonged civil violence. Also, South Sudanese culture encourages girls to marry rather than receive education. Three times as many boys as girls go to school.

Due to these factors, plus the ever-present poverty and lack of educational resources–much of South Sudan’s primary schooling is managed by NGOs–many South Sudanese adults have only one or two years of schooling. The average adult had only received 1.9 years of schooling in 2000. Compare this with World Bank’s statement: “Research shows that it takes five to six years of basic schooling to achieve functional literacy and numeracy.”

The  three quarters or more of South Sudan’s population who listen to radio regularly can be contrasted with wealthier, more literate countries:  in America, for example, radio news accounts for only 6 percent of Americans’ news source; print 9 percent (most of that is newspaper); internet 21 percent (most of that is nonspecific–i.e. not Facebook or Twitter). Television is the main source at 55 percent.

However, there are demographic variations in America that are relevant to a comparison with South Sudan’s use of radio. Radio may make up 3-7 percent of news for Americans under 65, but for people above 65 radio makes up 18 percent of their news sources. Americans 65 and older still watch TV as much as other age groups–more, actually–but they use the internet much less. Also, Americans who work full time listen to radio more than the unemployed, although they read about the same amount of news. College grads and especially post-grads use print and radio more than less educated Americans.

These statistics are according to polls by Gallup, who asked Americans what they considered to be their main source of news.

In addition to general poverty and lack of resources in South Sudan, radio is #1 because of other factors as well. The transport infrastructure, telecommunications and electricity limitations of South Sudan prohibit wide circulation of newspaper. Roads are sparse and only 300 kilometers of road are paved, limiting the ability of reporters to cover the whole country.

Additionally, newspapers such as The Citizen and The Juba Post have been victim to extralegal SPLA censorship measures in the form of harassment, according to the ownership and staff of those papers. The SPLA has confiscated newspapers in the past. The SPLA has also threatened radio stations with closure, but the effect has not been as great as newspaper censure.  Radio is more abundant, freer, more accessible, more diverse, more immediate, less tangible, and covers distances better than print in South Sudan, and is the only news available to poor or illiterate South Sudanese who reside outside of the capital .

By Day Blakely Donaldson

Sources:

Land and Sea Journal
Land and Sea Journal
Internews
Gurtong
World Bank
University of Western Kordofan
Pew Research
Gallup
BBC
U.S. State Department