Freedom of the Press
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)
Somalia remained one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists in 2014, though conditions varied between semiautonomous Puntland and the rest of the country, and among different areas within the south-central region itself.
Somalia’s 2012 provisional federal constitution provides for freedoms of speech and of the press. However, pervasive violence restricts reporting in practice. There is no law that guarantees access to public information, and defamation is a criminal offense, though many cases are resolved outside the formal court system, either according to xeer (customary law) or in Sharia (Islamic law) courts.
In August 2014, security forces raided the private Radio Shabelle and an affiliated station, Sky FM, and arrested 19 employees. Most were quickly released, but the media group’s owner, a director, a host, and a producer were charged in September with defaming the president, incitement of violence, publishing false information, and attacking “the unity of the Somali State.” Sky FM director Mohamud Mohamed and Shabelle producer Mohamed Bashir remained in custody at year’s end, while the other two were freed on bail.
Vague language in a draft counterterrorism bill approved by the council of ministers in July raised concerns that journalists could be charged with “supporting a terrorist organization” for simply covering such groups’ activities. Press freedom groups urged the parliament to revise the proposed legislation.
The government continued work on legislation to regulate the media sector during 2014. The cabinet of ministers approved a draft media law in September after consultations within the country and among diaspora groups, but Somali and international media organizations criticized the bill, which still had to be passed by the parliament. The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) argued that it could allow Somali authorities to punish their critics and encourage self-censorship. Among other provisions, the bill would empower authorities to force journalists to reveal their sources in court, impose restrictions on who can become a journalist, establish a National Media Council dominated by the Ministry of Information, and prohibit “false news” or “propaganda” against the dignity of individuals, organizations, or the government. Separately, a draft Communications Act appeared to be on hold, and its relationship to the proposed media law had yet to be determined. However, given the government’s inability to impose its authority over much of Somalia, the practical effect of any new laws remained unclear.
In 2013, the Ministry of Information introduced a media licensing system that activists denounced as a blow to freedom of expression, information, and the press. The system requires all print and broadcast outlets to apply for licenses through the ministry, and those without them can be forced to close. However, the application process is opaque, and the government has yet to demonstrate its ability to implement the system across south-central Somalia. The country’s existing media laws do not grant the ministry the authority to operate such a system.
Although the 2012 constitution of semiautonomous Puntland provides for press freedom, a number of laws impose restrictions on journalists. In July 2014, the Puntland legislature passed a new media law that empowered the region’s information ministry to unilaterally issue or revoke the registrations of media outlets and the identification cards of journalists. The measure, which was later signed by Puntland’s president, also specifies penalties, fines, and suspensions for journalists who violate the law.
Violence continued to undermine conditions for the media in south-central Somalia in 2014, as the government and African Union (AU) troops battled the Shabaab, a militant Islamist group, and other local militias for control of areas outside Mogadishu, the capital.
Numerous journalists have been killed in recent years, either for their perceived political affiliations or in crossfire. Media outlets have aligned themselves with political factions as a means of survival, making neutral or objective reporting a rarity. Self-censorship usually falls along partisan or clan-based lines. Concerns about safety also make journalists who gain access to militant leaders reluctant to conduct or edit critical interviews.
Arbitrary arrests and direct censorship also remained problems in 2014. In February, National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) personnel arrested the directors of Radio Danan and Radio Haatuf after the former’s website published photographs of a government official injured by a bomb. The detainees were allegedly threatened and tortured before being released. In September, security forces arrested and temporarily detained two journalists with the independent station Dalsan Radio in Mogadishu after one of them—Hassan Gessey, who is also chairman of the Somali Independent Media Houses Association—criticized a new government directive instructing the media to restrict reporting on military operations to information issued by the NISA. A number of other short-term detentions were reported during the year.
Journalists in Puntland continued to faced threats, attacks, and harassment from security forces and militias, who usually enjoyed impunity for their actions. There was hope among journalists that the government would be more tolerant under President Abdiweli Ali Gas, who took office in January 2014, than under his predecessor. However, restrictions remained harsh, and reporting on political and security issues was particularly difficult for journalists. In December, the Puntland government allegedly ordered the region’s largest telecommunications company to block four websites. Also that month, a police chief entered the offices of the popular station Radio Garowe, interrupted a broadcast, and threatened to arrest a presenter after he aired a report on an antitax protest.
Four journalists were killed in connection with their work in 2014, including one in Puntland, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Yusuf Ahmed Abukar, a journalist with Radio Ergo and Mustaqbal Radio, was killed in June when an explosive device attached to his car detonated as he drove to work in Mogadishu. He was reportedly critical of both the Shabaab and the Somali government. In November, freelance journalist Abdirizak Ali Abdi was shot to death by masked gunmen in Galkayo, Puntland. Abdirizak worked for both Radio Daljir and the Somaliland-based HornCable TV, and regularly covered political issues in the region. In December, cameraman Mohamed Isaq of Kalsan TV and Abdulkadir Ahmed, a freelance journalist working with Somali Channel TV and Star FM, were killed in Baidoa when a suicide bomber attacked a restaurant frequented by journalists and local officials. The Shabaab claimed responsibility for the attack. Several other journalists were wounded in separate attacks during 2014.
Despite the security situation, nearly two dozen radio stations continue to broadcast in south-central Somalia. The government supports Radio Mogadishu, which carries official news and information and provides some space for various groups and individuals to voice their opinions. The joint UN-AU radio station, Radio Bar Kulan, has sought to operate as a public-service broadcaster, though like Radio Mogadishu it tends to favor viewpoints that are sympathetic to the government and AU forces. Many Somalis also access news via foreign radio transmissions, including the Somali services of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Voice of America. There is one state-run television network, Somali National Television, which broadcasts from Mogadishu. A handful of private networks are based in the autonomous regions of the country but are viewed throughout Somalia. The print media sector is only starting to reemerge after being dormant for years.
The Somali diaspora in Europe, North America, and the Persian Gulf states has established a rich internet presence. There are several websites that offer news content in English and Somali, as well as television stations that broadcast over the internet. While some local journalists operate via web-based platforms, the Somali diaspora has greater economic resources, security, and access to technology, giving it great influence over the media landscape.
Internet service is available in large cities in Somalia, and users enjoy a relatively fast and inexpensive connection, including through mobile devices. Mobile-phone usage has expanded rapidly in recent years, but only about 1.6 percent of the population accessed the internet in 2014. Although there were no reports of government restrictions on the internet, the Shabaab attempted to ban the medium in areas that it controlled by pressuring providers to terminate their services. The government faced significant criticism for its inability to resist the ban and maintain mobile internet services.
The advertising sector is weak, and advertising revenue is often not enough to sustain media enterprises. Some outlets consequently depend on financial support from wealthy owners or politicians, which compromises editorial independence. Journalists in all regions of Somalia receive low or even no pay and rely on trainings, corruption, or blackmail for additional income. Many media outlets also prefer to hire cheaper, less-skilled workers or relatives over more experienced journalists. Because there is an abundance of journalists, those who complain about low wages usually face threats of dismissal and replacement.
[The scores and narrative for Somalia do not reflect conditions for the media in the territory of Somaliland, which is covered in a separate report for the first time this year.]