The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) today expressed grave concerns over hastily prepared revised media law as it is creating a chilling effect and undermining media freedom and journalists’ rights.
Revised text released by the Ministry of Information, Culture & Tourism present legal provisions that will contradict constitutional guarantees for media freedom as dictated by article 18 of the provisional constitution of Somalia.
The draft text specifies that a journalist is anyone who has been in journalism for at least two years, which means that new entrants to the journalism profession will only be recognized by the proposed law after two years when the text does not specify how to ascertain that the person has been in journalism for the past two years, and this provision undermines that basic concept that journalism is an open profession.
The revised text still maintains the composition and government-controlled nomination process of media commission as a regulatory body which is again dominated by state media representatives and state-sanctioned institutions, thus reducing the independence and credibility of media commission as trustable regulatory body that will promote media freedom without government control.
The proposed text further imposes on poorly paid journalists hefty fines that are much more than monthly salaries that bulk of journalists would receive, specifies that any court can compel a journalist to reveal confidential sources by legalizing any lower court to compel a journalist to reveal sources. The proposed text further government controlled licensing process which can manipulated or politicalized in order to deny a media house to be established.
The draft text prepared by the Ministry of Information, which NUSOJ received a copy, is still maintaining vaguely worded edicts whose scope is unclear and fails to meet standards of clarity and precision so that media practitioners can foresee the consequences of their actions.
“False news” is also prohibited or outlawed in the revised text of the media law, and shows how the proposed text will stifle journalists from reporting in environments that are often contradictory and rapidly developing. Positons of the union previously made it clear that false news provisions are inconsistent with the international guarantee of freedom of expression, particularly if they are enforced through law.
“Proposed legal regime possesses retrogressive provisions that are not in-tandem with Somalia’s international human rights obligations, and seeks to water down the Constitutional guarantees on freedom of expression embedded in the provisional constitution of Somalia” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General. “The media law simply threatens the future of independent journalism in Somalia”.
NUSOJ deplores the misleading communication from the Ministry of Information in which it portrays that it had conducted consultations with media stakeholders and regional Ministries of Information.
“The Ministry of Information shirked to have genuine, open, inclusive and transparent law making process. By colluding with sweetheart individuals of the Ministry just to rubber stamp and calling it consultations is a sham. Developing national laws on the basis of cronyism and favoritism is obnoxious. By doing so the Ministry only shows its lack of commitment to upholding freedom of expression” added Osman.
NUSOJ calls for proper, participatory and transparent consultation process with all relevant stakeholders that would give legitimacy and broader support to this important piece of media legislation.
“We call on the council of Ministers not to approve the proposed text of the media law and the government should consult with important stakeholders including those living outside of the capital in the formulation of the media law. Unless these unjustly restrictive provisions are struck out from media law and in the proposed text, they remain an obstacle to exercising freedom of expression and media rights” stressed Osman.
NUSOJ urges Somali journalists and freedom of expression advocates to get united against the proposed media law as its stands a renewed effort to curtail media freedom through draconian media law.