A three-day Consultative Forum on Safety and Security of Somali Journalists ended in Mogadishu, yesterday on a high note, with over 60 journalists reflecting on the safety crisis engulfing the media industry in Somalia.
The forum discussed the chronic law and order vacuum, the impunity that fuels the litany of media rights abuses in the country, and adopted a national action plan (NAP), highlighting immediate steps that can be taken to eradicate the culture of impunity.
Organised by the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), in partnership with the African Union (AU) multidimensional mission for Somalia, the African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS), the forum was held from 3 to 5 September 2022.
Participants addressed pressing occupational safety and security issues, encompassing the physical, legal, psychosocial, and digital safety of journalists. They also discussed the unique safety challenges facing female journalists, who in addition to risks they share with their male counterparts, also face gendered abuses.
Inspired by the African Union initiative on “Silencing the Guns”, the theme of the forum was “Silencing the Guns: Protecting the Safety and Security of Somali Journalists.” The forum created an opportunity for media professionals to advocate for the domestication of this initiative in Somalia, as a way of committing the Federal Government and Federal Member States to end the spiral of violence targeting journalists.
The deliberations focused on the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue Impunity, to assess what has worked and the unresolved issues and challenges after ten (10) years of existence and how best to utilize it for safeguarding the safety and security of journalists.
To highlight the sensitivity of the subject, and the need for immediate remedies, the consultative forum was graced by the Federal Minister for Internal Security, Dr Mohamed Ahmed Sheikh Ali (Doodishe) who expressed his total sympathy for journalists and their need for a conducive and safe work environment.
“Your safety and freedoms are non-negotiable. They are protected by our constitution, and on behalf of my Ministry I want to assure you that your safety and security is of uttermost priority for us because you are citizens who deserve to be protected as you significantly contribute to the development of our society” said Minister Dr Mohamed Ahmed Sheikh Ali.
“I am glad that you are participating in such an important forum, discussing pertinent security issues for your life and profession, and I am here not only to speak to you but also to listen to you. I will improve relations between journalists and the security forces so that you operate in a conducive environment, but I encourage you to remain professional and ethical and act responsibly” added Minister Dr. Mohamed.
On behalf of the African Union and its mission, Ms. Fiona Lortan, Acting Head of African Union Transition Mission in Somalia (ATMIS) and Deputy Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, extended solidarity to Somali journalists and reaffirmed the commitment of the pan-African body to securing the safety and security of journalists and media freedom to achieve a peaceful and stable Somalia.
“Media professionals have always played an important role in early warning, crisis response and post-conflict interventions at various levels, and in effectively contributing to conflict prevention, management and resolution,” said Lortan.
Ms. Lortan, who underlined the importance of the African Union initiative of “Silencing the Guns” and its relevance to Somalia, explained that the framework on “Silencing the Guns,” is based on the political commitment of African Union member states to eradicate the underlying causes, triggers and factors fuelling conflict.
“This places governance at the heart of efforts to address and end conflicts on the continent, and therefore also places the right to information, and freedom of expression at the heart of peace and security. This is the very reason that we want to support Somali journalists to operate in a safe and peaceful environment in their country” noted Lortan.
Speaking on behalf of UNESCO, the lead UN agency for freedom of expression and the safety of journalists, Ms. Misako Ito, the UNESCO Regional Advisor for Communication and Information, restated UNESCO’s concerted efforts to protect the safety of journalists. Misako Ito expounded in great length the UN Plan of action on the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity and engaged in interactive discussions with journalists.
“UNESCO realized that the safety of journalists and the issue of impunity require a solution that is of much greater impact, and able to bring different stakeholders with different expertise, resources, network and interest to put a positive change. Hence the UN Plan of Action on the Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity was born in 2012 and since then it has become a global reference point in the discussion of safety of journalists,” said Misako Ito.
The International Labour Organisation (ILO) Regional Workers’ Specialist Mban Kabu, delivered an elaborate presentation on the occupational safety and health conventions that Somalia has acceded to, and how they are applicable to journalists as media workers. ILO Conventions are legally binding on Somalia and if domesticated and fully implemented, will significantly contribute to the actualization of the UN Plan of Action on Safety of Journalists and the Issue of Impunity.
Omar Faruk Osman, the Secretary General of NUSOJ, described the gathering as an important step in charting practical approaches to unlocking the safety conundrum facing journalists.
“We know the enormity of the safety crisis at our hands and this gathering was the right forum where victim journalists and their endangered colleagues as well as editors and media managers can extensively look into the gravity of the safety and security situation, evaluate the UN plan of action on safety of journalists and the issue of impunity and explore pragmatic ways to actualise it in Somalia while also using the AU’s silencing the guns initiative for the protection of the right to life of journalists,” Osman said.
“Our drive for safe journalism is action oriented, journalists-centred, conscious of local realities and conforms to global standards, while also fulfilling international obligations in defending media freedom” Osman added.
After three days of deliberations, the consultative forum adopted a National Action Plan for Safety of Journalists in Somalia (NAP) which is a Somali-owned and Somali-led blueprint, whose main aspiration is to galvanise home-grown advocacy and solutions that empower journalists to play leading roles, in synergizing the various actions regarding media freedom, safety of journalists, freedom of information and women journalists’ protection in a complementary and cooperative manner.