2 September 2014
The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) expresses outrage over the passing of the contentious anti-media legislation that introduced strict media restrictions and heavy fines.
Somalia’s council of Ministers on Monday, 1 September 2014, narrowly passed a draft media law presented by the Minister of Information Mustaf Sheikh Ali Dhuhulow in an attempt to control the independent media under the guise of regulation.
“The broad restrictions laid out by this legislation invite both its abuse by Somali authorities to silence their critics, control independent media, disproportionately punish journalists and self-censorship on the part of journalists and media houses in order to avoid potential repercussions,” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General.
“The government has not honored its pledge to introduce a media law that would expand the margin for free expression and promote the media landscape”.
Article 6 of the draft media law establishes National Media Council, which consists of thirteen (13) members. 6 of the thirteen members will be appointed from the Ministry of Information while 4 members will be appointed from independent media. The remaining three members will be appointed from civil society, particularly from National Human Rights Commission, National Women Organisation, Solicitor General or Somali Bar Association. The National Media Council shall be appointed by the Ministry of Information, according to article 6, provision 6.2 of the bill.
This article clearly establishes a media regulatory body which is dominated by the Ministry of Information with most of the members and is appointed by the same ministry. The council undoubtedly lacks independence, credibility and the journalists’ community and the wider public will have no faith in it.
All media houses including newspapers must register at the Ministry of Information and pay unspecified annual license fee to get a licence from the Ministry, according to article 7, provision 7.3. This opens the door for the Ministry to politicize the issuance of licenses and deny any media house that they may deem to be critical to them.
The draft media law further states that a journalist or media house shall pay a fine between US$5000 to $10,000 for breach of “code of ethics”, according to article 3, provision 3.4.
As stated by article 21, any media house, which is found guilty by National Media Council and penalized to pay fine or compensation must publish or broadcast the judgment of the council, and failure to do so, the media house shall pay US$20,000 for penalty.
“The proposed drastic fines will impose an enormous restraint on freedom of the media, resulting in stifling the media, as well as self-censorship,” added Osman.
Article 15 specifies that the Ministry of Information and National Media Council shall set code of ethics based on respect for “Islamic religion” and “Somalia’s good tradition”. It is deplorable that people other than journalists can set a code of ethics for journalism.
Article 19 prohibits dissemination of “false news” or “propaganda” against dignity of citizen, individuals, organisations or government.
The language of the draft media law is broad and open to wide-ranging interpretation and selective implementation by the Ministry of Information, government – controlled National Media Council and the courts.
“The ambiguity created by vaguely defined terms under the new draft media law can subject journalists and media houses to unnecessary restrictions and deny the right to freedom of expression” declared Osman.
According to article 25, provision 25.7, the media house must record and keep the voice of the “confidential source” or the voice of its unidentified reporter to disclose before a court of law. This provision orders that the court can compel the media house to disclose the “confidential source” or name its unidentified journalist.
The draft law outlines who could be a journalist. According to article 24, any Somali who has journalism knowledge or has been working in the media for at least three years can be a journalist. This means this bill does not recognize as a journalist a none-Somali, who does not have journalism education background or who was not in the media for at least three years. This discriminates foreigners working and living in Somalia to join journalism profession and imposes restrictions on how Somalis can join an open profession.
The draft media law foresees “criminal offenses” by journalists and media houses, which will be, handled by “Attorney General and competent court of law”. This insertion was repeatedly affirmed in the draft media law and shows a “criminal offense” is being sought for journalists and media.
The new draft law also places undue restrictions on media ownership and management. If the media house, including print media, does not have a license from the Ministry of Information, it will not be allowed to operate.
NUSOJ objects to this draft media law because it is not in line with article 18 of provisional constitution of Somalia, African union charter of freedom of expression, article 19 of ICCPR and the internationally recognized norms of press freedom. The union urges Somali lawmakers to throw out this package of controversial draft media law, which curtails media freedom.
“We call on Somali journalists, media owners and international press freedom community to raise up and reject this media law. We will do everything in our disposal to challenge this repressive and undemocratic media law that only reverses several of the gains achieved by Somali media” said Osman.