Freedom of the Press

Somalia

Somalia

Freedom of the Press 2007

2007 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

85

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

34

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

24

The media environment experienced a noticeable deterioration in 2006 with the escalation of armed conflict between the internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG), which was based in Baidoa, and the Islamic Courts Union (ICU), an Islamist group that took control of much of Somalia, including the capital, Mogadishu, beginning in June. By the end of the year, however, the ICU had been largely routed by Ethiopian troops intervening on behalf of the TFG, which was able to relocate to Mogadishu following the defeat of the ICU in December. According to the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), 2006 was the most dangerous year for press freedom in more than a decade.

In principle, Somalia’s charter provides for freedom of the press, but given the lawless conditions in much of the country, many of the local clan leaders have disregarded this in favor of a more aggressive approach to critical reporting. In October, the ICU proposed the establishment of a 13-point program with which it would regulate the conduct of the media that would have effectively eliminated press freedom in the areas under its control. It would have prohibited the publication of articles that could create division between the ICU and the public, required journalists to reveal their sources, and forbidden media outlets from receiving foreign funding. However, the ICU eventually agreed to discuss the proposal with the media before it could be passed; at year’s end, no aspect of the proposed media regulations had been formally approved or implemented. In general, the ICU was able to severely curtail the freedoms of the independent press and its efforts to impose further legal restrictions helped to cultivate an atmosphere of fear and pervasive self-censorship across the country.

In 2006, the number of violent attacks, arbitrary arrests, and instances of censorship noticeably increased. The NUSOJ logged 30 such cases—10 more than it had recorded in 2005. The most egregious incident occurred in June, less than three weeks after the ICU seized control of Mogadishu, when Martin Adler, the award-winning Swedish freelance journalist and photographer, was shot in the back and killed while filming a pro-ICU demonstration in the capital. Despite ICU promises that his killer would be brought to justice, at year’s end no one had been identified or arrested. Among numerous other press freedom violations that occurred in territories held by the Islamists, in September the ICU began closing critical radio stations and detaining journalists. Private Radio HornAfrik, Radio Jowhar, and Radio Simba were all temporarily shuttered for their critical reporting. Radio Jowhar in the Middle Shabelle region was told it could resume broadcasting if it agreed to stop playing romantic music and refrained from critical reporting about the ICU.

Intimidation and harassment of the media was not unique to Mogadishu or the ICU. In fact, self-censorship was a particular problem in Baidoa, where journalists were expressly targeted by the TFG for reporting on the presence of Ethiopian troops in Somalia prior to their announced entry on December 20. TFG actions included the June closure of Radio Shabelle, a local radio station, and the October arrest and temporary detention of Abdullahi Yassin Jama, a journalist with private outlets Radio Warsan and the Somali Broadcasting Corporation.

Despite the high number of press freedom violations reported in 2006, many more are believed to have gone completely unreported, often out of fear of reprisal or an acceptance of the futility of attempts to bring perpetrators to justice. In fact, near total impunity currently exists in Somalia for perpetrators of crimes against the press; in the last two years, no suspects have been arrested for any of the multiple instances of harassment, intimidation, murder, abuse, or torture of journalists. Such is the case with two journalists murdered in 2005; British Broadcasting Corporation correspondent Kate Peyton and Duniya Muhyadin Nur, a reporter for the Somali-based radio station Capital Voice, were both shot and killed while working in and around Mogadishu.

Photocopied dailies and low-grade radio stations have proliferated in Mogadishu and elsewhere since 1991; some 50 private newspapers and a dozen radio and television stations exist in the country. Nonetheless, a number of outlets ceased operations in 2006 or censored the subject matter of their reporting. Of those that continue to operate, many have been accused of bias, particularly in their coverage of the war or ethnic and clan rivalries. The infrastructure for journalism in Somalia is relatively undeveloped, as many journalists work with little to no pay and most are employed without a written contract. Unlike many other African nations, Somalia has a rich internet presence, fueled predominantly by the Somali diaspora in Europe, North America, and the Gulf states. Nevertheless, owing to pervasive poverty, less than 1 percent of the domestic Somali population has been able to access this resource. While the online community has traditionally operated unhindered, there were reports in 2006 that the ICU monitored internet activity closely.

In 2006, the status of press freedom was visibly better in Puntland (a self-declared autonomous region) and Somaliland (which claimed, but has not been granted, full independence from Somalia) than in the rest of the country, although restrictions are still harsh and coverage of political and security issues is particularly perilous. The Puntland charter provides for freedom of the press “as long as [media practitioners] respect the law.” In January, Radio Las Anod—the only radio station in the city of Las Anod, in the Sool region between Somaliland and Puntland—was temporarily closed and all employees were briefly detained, reportedly for airing criticism of the Puntland government’s decision to move a planned vaccination program out of the city. In Somaliland, liberal decrees nominally guaranteeing press freedom do not prevent the local administration from continuing to harass and detain journalists. In June, soldiers from the Somaliland Criminal Investigation Department arrested the editor of a popular newspaper on charges that he had published an article written by a U.S. reader; the editor was released the next day, but only following persistent demands by human rights groups. In March, the government in Somaliland gave its permission for Hargeisa Cable Television to begin operating an independent broadcast in the region; until 2006, the Somaliland government had maintained a monopoly on broadcast television.