Somalia | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Somalia

Somalia

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

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

84

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

35

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

22

The media environment remained extremely dangerous in 2007 amid ongoing conflict between the internationally recognized Transitional Federal Government (TFG), based in Baidoa, and the Islamic Courts Union, an Islamist alliance that regrouped and has engaged in insurgent attacks against the TFG since late 2006, when the TFG—backed by Ethiopian troops—resumed control of the capital, Mogadishu. In such an environment, it remained difficult for media to be neutral or objective, as alliances were essential for survival and many outlets operate as public information sources for particular parties. The media environment in the self-governing regions of Puntland and Somaliland was markedly better.

In principle, Somalia’s charter provides for freedom of the press, but in practice, owing to the lawless nature of the country, journalists continue to face restrictions on their reporting. There are also no freedom of information laws to guarantee access to public information. In December 2007, the TFG parliament approved a media bill, which had not yet been signed into law at year’s end but has been criticized by press freedom groups for imposing vague and severe restrictions, including limits on images and speeches. Nonetheless, the potential impact of this law remains unknown, given that the TFG controls only 30 percent of the country. During the year, the TFG continued to enforce restrictions against reporting on or photographing the Ethiopian National Defense Forces.

Numerous press freedom attacks occurred throughout 2007, and the Committee to Protect Journalists ranks Somalia as the deadliest country for journalists in Africa. Seven journalists were killed (4 were caught in conflict crossfire, and 3 others were murdered), 4 injured, and as many as 60 arrested, often without warrants, in relation to their work. Among those killed were Mahad Ahmed Elmi, head of the Mogadishu-based radio station Capital Voice, and Ali Mohammed Omar, a presenter with the private Baidoa-based Radio Warsan. A pervasive culture of impunity persists, and by year’s end, no arrests had been made in connection with the killings that occurred either in 2007 or during any of the previous years. In March, the TFG closed Al-Jazeera’s Mogadishu bureau, and in April, government soldiers shelled the compounds of media groups HornAfrik and Global Broadcasting Corporation (GBC) during an attack against alleged insurgents; GBC closed in August. In November, Mogadishu’s mayor also closed three radio stations on charges that they had aired allegedly subversive news. The stations were allowed to resume broadcasting three weeks later only after intense international pressure.

Photocopied dailies and low-grade radio stations have proliferated in Mogadishu and elsewhere since 1991; there were at least eight radio stations broadcasting in Mogadishu in 2007, many of which were actually not linked to political factions. A number of outlets ceased operations in 2007, however, and of those that continue to operate, many have been accused of bias, particularly in their coverage of the war or clan rivalries. Somalia has a rich internet presence, fueled predominantly by the Somali diaspora in Europe, North America, and the Gulf states. Internet service is widely available in large cities, and users enjoy a fast and inexpensive connection. Nevertheless, owing to pervasive poverty and the internal displacement of many Somalis, only 1 percent of the population had access to this resource in 2007. Although there were no reports of government restrictions on the internet, opposition groups reportedly monitored internet activity.

Although the status of press freedom was visibly better in Puntland, a self-declared autonomous region, restrictions remain harsh and coverage of political and security issues can be particularly dangerous for journalists. Among other instances of violence against the press, in June, the headquarters of the private newspaper Shacab was attacked with firebombs, damaging a printing machine, and on December 16, a French journalist with the French-German television station ARTE was kidnapped but released later in the month.

In 2007, the status of press freedom was markedly better in Somaliland—which claims but has not been granted full independence from Somalia—than in the rest of the country. In advance of elections that are expected in 2008, journalists faced a greater level of harassment by the authorities than during the previous year. The government also drafted and proposed a new Press Law in 2007 to replace the existing liberal one. The Somaliland Journalists Association has criticized the lack of dialogue in the process of drafting the legislation, as well as provisions allowing the Ministry of Information to influence media outlets’ managerial, financial, and editorial decisions. Journalists also protested the proposed requirement that they register with the ministry and hold a press card.

Whereas in previous years there existed a relatively conciliatory relationship between the Somaliland government and the press, this trend was sharply reversed in 2007, when several journalists were imprisoned. In January, three journalists with the private daily Haatuf were arrested and sentenced to several years’ imprisonment for allegedly insulting the wife of Somaliland president Dahir Riyale Kahin; the journalists were eventually pardoned following internal political pressure, widespread domestic protests, and international condemnation. Among other cases of arrests during the year, in the southern Somaliland town of Las Anod, authorities detained two journalists, Abdiqani Hassan Farah and Mohammed Shakale, for reportedly covering the violent conflict along the Puntland-Somaliland border. During the year, at least two dozen Somali journalists fled Mogadishu to seek safety in the western Somaliland town of Hargeisa. Although the journalists who fled were provided sanctuary by local press freedom organizations and fellow journalists, Somaliland authorities eventually forced the journalists to leave following pressure from the Ethiopian government over their critical coverage of the Ethiopian occupation in the south.

In 2007, there were six independent daily newspapers in addition to a government daily operating in Somaliland, although most newspapers were not economically sustainable and were heavily subsidized by the diaspora and journalists’ families. There were also two independent television stations in addition to a government-owned station. The government has been reluctant to liberalize the airwaves, however, citing the potential of instigating clan violence, an argument that some Somalilanders support. As a result, the establishment of independent radio stations is banned. The internet is widely available at competitive prices and serves as an active forum through which the diaspora contributes to the local media environment.