At a global conference on press freedom co-hosted by Canada this week, South Sudanese journalists joined representatives from more than 100 countries in London to share their story of how they are changing the narrative and pushing for media rights.

South Sudan, the world’s youngest country and one of the most dangerous in the world for journalists, moved up in the world press freedom index this year, thanks in part to efforts by local journalists to transform the press in their country. They ranked 139 this year out of 180, up from 144 in 2018.

“Journalism is my life,” said radio reporter Mary Goch. “A career I can sacrifice anything to continue practicing.”

Ravaged by civil war, South Sudan gained independence from the Republic of the Sudan in 2011. But intimidation, violence, and even targeted assassinations have made the region extremely dangerous for members of the media. In one case, five journalists were murdered in one day in January 2015.

There have been no deaths since 2018, with some of the dangers easing because of a precarious peace in the country, but also because of the activism by local journalists.

“To operate in a country where there is severe conflict is not easy,” said Anna Siya, a South Sudanese journalist with Juba Monitor.

Press members have pushed to incorporate media rights into the constitution, and getting access to more funding and training - something the Canadian non-profit, Journalists for Human Rights, is helping with.

While many challenges remain - threats and intimidation, government censorship, fears of arrest - a shift appears to be happening, the journalists said.

“We cannot say there is total media freedom,” said Goch. “We cannot say there is no media freedom at all … But we are laying a foundation.”