Freedom of the Press
You are here
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
The media environment in Somalia varies significantly, with different conditions in chaotic southern Somalia, the autonomous Puntland region, and the breakaway region of Somaliland. In January 2009, Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a former leader of the Union of Islamic Courts (UIC) that was ousted from power by Ethiopian troops in 2006, became the president of the internationally supported Transitional Federal Government (TFG). However, the TFG controlled only a small portion of southern Somalia, while the Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab, formerly a UIC-aligned militia, seized large swathes of the country and most of the capital, Mogadishu.
Somalia’s charter provides for freedom of the press, but owing to the lawless conditions in much of the country, journalists continue to face restrictions on their reporting in practice. There is no freedom of information law to guarantee access to public information. A media bill approved by the Transitional Federal Assembly in late 2007 was criticized by press freedom groups for imposing vague and severe restrictions, including limits on images and speeches. However, given the TFG’s tenuous control over its territory, the practical effects of the law remain unclear.
The struggle between the TFG, Al-Shabaab, and another militant group, Hisbul Islam, has dramatically affected the media environment in southern Somalia. Media outlets have aligned themselves with political factions as a means of survival, making neutral or objective reporting a rarity. Journalists working for international broadcasters such as the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) and Voice of America (VOA) have also faced pressure from the government and the extremist groups. Frequent incidents of harassment, arbitrary arrest, and violence against journalists continued to encourage high levels of self-censorship. Direct censorship also remained a problem, as Al-Shabaab forced several radio stations to either shut down or cease broadcasting of any music in 2009.
Numerous journalists have been killed in the capital, either for supporting the wrong political faction or as accidental casualties in armed clashes. Such attacks on the media made Somalia the second deadliest place in the world for journalists in 2009. Of the nine journalists killed during the year, two were specifically targeted. Said Tahlil Ahmed, director of the independent HornAfrik radio station in Mogadishu, and Mukhtar Mohamed Hirabe, director of Radio Shabelle, were killed in February and June respectively. Radio Shabelle suffered the highest number of losses in 2009, accounting for four of the nine deaths. In the most dramatic incident, a Shabaab suicide bomber attacked a university graduation ceremony in December, killing nearly two dozen people. The victims included three journalists and a number of TFG officials.
Dozens of radio stations broadcast in Mogadishu and in other parts of the country. In October 2009, the TFG launched Radio Mogadishu, a new outlet meant not only to carry government-sponsored news and information, but also to provide space for a variety of groups and individual Somalis to voice their opinions. In late 2009, a joint United Nations–African Union radio station started preparations to begin broadcasting in 2010. Like Radio Mogadishu, the new station was intended to offer a platform for voices that may be critical of the extremists and more sympathetic to the TFG.
The status of press freedom was visibly better in Puntland, the self-declared autonomous region, but restrictions remained harsh, and coverage of political and security issues was particularly dangerous for journalists. Despite the Puntland president’s stated commitment to greater openness, two online journalists were jailed in 2009 for insulting the region’s leaders. In addition, the government accused VOA of fomenting instability in Puntland, suspending its local broadcasts in October, and a VOA correspondent was arrested for unknown reasons by Puntland intelligence officials in December.
Somaliland, a region whose claims of independence have not been internationally recognized, enjoys more press freedom than the rest of the country. However, in its annual report on media freedom in Somaliland, released in December 2009, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) noted that the judiciary has repeatedly failed to punish perpetrators of attacks against journalists and media outlets, and has continued to try journalists on trumped-up charges. In August, Yasin Jama Ali of the Berberanews website was banned from practicing journalism for 10 years for committing a “crime against the Somaliland nation.” The site’s editor in chief was sentenced to three years in prison, and the outlet was barred from operating in Somaliland. Also during the year, several Somaliland journalists faced threatening text messages and harassment from Al-Shabaab. Fearing retaliation, some outlets refrained from openly reporting and condemning the activities of the group.
An ongoing political crisis in Somaliland, combined with the approach of long-delayed elections scheduled for 2010, led to increased political harassment of journalists and government sensitivity over media reports. In July, managing director Mohamed Osman Mire and news editor Ahmed Suleyman Dhuhul of the Hargeisa-based Radio Horyaal—the only private radio station in the region—were arrested and detained for 15 days for allegedly inciting violence with reports on a meeting between the president and clan leaders regarding a land dispute. The two were convicted in August, but escaped six-month jail terms by paying a large fine. Osman was detained again in September after he allegedly accused the interior minister of intimidating Radio Horyaal employees. The small number of independent television stations operating in Somaliland have come under similar intimidation and harassment. In July, Horn Cable Television’s offices were raided by police, and the station was subsequently shut down for allegedly inciting clan violence through false reporting.
The Somaliland government has been reluctant to liberalize the airwaves, citing the potential of instigating clan violence, an argument that some Somalilanders support. The establishment of independent radio stations is banned, and government-owned Radio Hargeisa remains the only FM station, although the BBC is available in the capital. Radio Horyaal circumvents the ban on private broadcasting by having its recorded programming transmitted on shortwave from a studio in Belgium. There is one government-owned television station, Somaliland National Television, and a number of Somali-language satellite stations are also accessible.
While radio dominates in the south of Somalia, newspapers are the most vibrant medium in Somaliland. Most of these outlets are not economically sustainable and are heavily subsidized by the diaspora as well as political parties and their interests. While the repeatedly postponed regional elections have led to the establishment of more newspapers, the delays have also caused greater polarization in the media. There are seven independent daily newspapers in Somaliland, one government daily, and two English-language newspapers.The Somali diaspora in Europe, North America, and the Gulf states have established a rich internet presence. Internet service is available in large cities in Somalia, and users enjoy a relatively fast and inexpensive connection. Nevertheless, owing to pervasive poverty and the internal displacement of many Somalis, access is limited. Only 1 percent of the Somali population had internet access in 2009. Although there were no reports of government restrictions on the internet, some factions reportedly monitored internet activity.