Radio Tamazuj: on the path to independence in exile

In recent years, Radio Tamazuj has become a household name in South Sudan, a country that earned its independence in 2011 after years of civil war with Sudan. Since December 2013 another horrific conflict is being fought out, and as a result, the human rights of the South Sudanese have deteriorated enormously. Up to now, 2 million people have fled the country and the role of Radio Tamazuj is more important than ever.

In 2011, Free Press Unlimited launched Radio Tamazuj from its South Sudanese office, Free Voice South Sudan. Radio Tamazuj was the logical follow-up to the successful program, Radio Referendum, which has been broadcast via Radio Dabanga (Sudan’s only independent radio station) since 2010.

Exiled from South Sudan

In the early years, the brand-new radio focused on the border areas between Sudan and South Sudan, where groups of people were left isolated and marginalised after the country’s split. In 2013, when a new (civil) war broke out in South Sudan, the Radio Tamazuj editorial team decided to expand its broadcasting to reach all South Sudanese. It quickly grew into one of the most important players in the media field of this violence-stricken country. But the South Sudan government that had embraced Radio Tamazuj prior to the outbreak of the war, began to appreciate independent reporting less and less.

In South Sudan, the state of freedom of expression quickly deteriorated. The security services intimidated, tortured and murdered journalists; it became impossible to continue to carry out independent and uncensored reporting in South Sudan. Radio Tamazuj and its staff, like many other South Sudanese who fight for the truth, were forced to leave their country. Since 2015, they have been working in exile from a neighbouring country.

The Radio Tamazuj reach

It wasn’t easy, but the team, which has grown strongly in the past three years, is proud that they have never skipped a radio broadcast, despite the circumstances.

  July 2014 December 2017
Number of staff members 9 16
Number of editorial staff 9 13
Female/male ratio 2:7 7:9
%Women in leadership positions 0% 42%
Nationality of editor-in-chief American South Sudanese
Number of Freelance correspondents in South Sudan 3 17

Every day, 500,000 South Sudanese listen via the short wave to Radio Tamazuj, which also reaches the war zones, where all (FM) radio and telephone networks have been off the air for years. A network of undercover journalists in South Sudan provides daily news for the Radio Tamazuj journalists to make their broadcasts. This news also appears on the website and social media channels in two languages: Arabic and English.

Working in exile

As well as missing home and loved ones, working in exile brings various problems. For example, the South Sudanese government has labelled Radio Tamazuj as a hostile medium since its involuntary departure in 2015 – especially since the radio station broadcasts messages that that are displeasing to the government. The South Sudanese security service is trying to intimidate Radio Tamazuj and its employees in any way it can – digitally and physically – and make it impossible to broadcast. For example, in July 2017 South Sudan blocked the Radio Tamazuj website. Thanks to the Free Press Unlimited digital expert, who gave the editorial department technical advice, many people were still able to visit the website via a detour.

Due to the security protocols that the editorial staff are forced to uphold, hardly anyone comes to visit them. This isolation is balanced by the enormous involvement displayed by South Sudanese through Radio Tamazuj’s social media channels. This is a daily reminder to the journalists of the importance of their work.

  January 2016 December 2017
Website 260,000 visitors per month 1.2 million visitors per month
Facebook English + Arabic 25,192 likes 79,000 likes; 1.000 new Likes Per month
Facebook Diaspora English did not exist 18,000 likes
Twitter English + Arabic 9,700 followers 18,000 followers
SoundCloud 82 followers 250 followers, 2,000 listeners per month
WhatsApp did not exist Over 1,000 incoming messages per day

Professionalisation on the path to independence

Organisationally, it is not easy to run a professional radio station out of the blue in another country. Free Press Unlimited supports Radio Tamazuj both financially and operationally with targeted training, varying from editorial management to investigative journalism. In July 2017, Free Press Unlimited and the editorial staff of Radio Tamazuj held extensive discussions about the future of Radio Tamazuj. Free Press Unlimited supports Radio Tamazuj with quality improvement and revenue models, to help the radio station on its path to independence, of course without influencing their independent editorial system, they work sovereignly under their own Editorial Charter. Our common goal is that Radio Tamazuj will be independent and self-sufficient from 2020 onwards. At the request of the editors, we are taking plenty of time for this.

In 2017, Radio Tamazuj put together a new editorial charter, and revised the complaints procedure and a code of conduct. The team has a South Sudanese editor-in-chief, which means the entire editorial team is made up of local staff. The editors also want to progress quickly in terms of content. To help combat the shockingly high level of illiteracy in South Sudan (27%), the editors want to make more educational programs. This way, with the support of Free Press Unlimited, it is working hard on a professional and independent Radio Tamazuj that can continuously provide reliable information to the people of South Sudan.

Project since: 2011
Donor: anonymous, due to safety risks

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