The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) is pleased to release its report, “Safe Journalism and Unfettered Access to Information: Key Drivers for Sustainable Development in Somalia”, on the occasion of Somalia’s presentation of the Voluntary National Review (VNR) at the UN High Level Political Forum in New York.
The launch of the report on the sidelines of the UN High-Level Political Forum during which Somalia will present its first ever VNR, is of great significance as it will spotlight the challenges facing Somalia in its quest to accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Agenda.
The report offers insightful analysis into the localization of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 16, especially Indicators 16.10.1 and 16.10.2, in Somalia. These two indicators gauge the extent to which countries are promoting the safety of journalists and public access to information respectively, within the broader context of SDG 16, which seeks to “promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development, provide access to justice for all and build effective, accountable and inclusive institutions at all levels.”
In this regard, the report, which is funded by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) through its International Programme for the Development of Communications (IPDC), further documents the gaps in knowledge, attitudes, and perceptions (KAP) of media stakeholders as well as government officials in relation to access to information and safety of Somali journalists.
Specifically, the report reveals how lack of appropriate policy and legislation that guarantee the right to access information continues to undermine the establishment of a peaceful and inclusive Somali society propped up by accountable public institutions.
The report shows that journalists are routinely denied access to public or government-related information with many interviewed stating that their success in accessing certain pieces of information was met with threats to their safety and freedoms.
Furthermore, the report depicts how media outlets and journalists continue to be subjected to violence and harassment, and how the Somali authorities continue to misuse the defamation laws and other provisions of the Somali Penal Code to undermine the watchdog role of the journalists and subjugate press freedom in the country.
A large component of the contemporary media space is online and the report reveals that a staggering 80% of journalists interviewed for this analysis have experienced digital surveillance. This type of intimidation is designed to curtail media freedom and stifle alternative or dissenting voices. If unchecked, such interference affects the volume and quality of media reports, the depth of analysis and ultimately, citizens’ access to public information on which to make important decisions in their lives.
Indeed, there is little doubt that the culture of impunity that pervades public institutions in Somalia is a significant reason why journalists continue to be victims of threats and violence. Since 2015 when SDGs were adopted, Somalia has seen 23 journalists killed and countless others injured, arrested and harassed because of their journalistic work. In cruel irony, journalists are often arrested and charged arbitrarily and with increasing regularity. This sends a clear and disturbing message that perpetuating crimes against journalists is of no or little consequence.
“We are in a decade that is inspiring us to think and dream big. With a mere seven years to accomplish the SDGs, we must think strategically and innovatively, and our interventions must be developed from sound evidence and information”, remarked Omar Faruk Osman, the Secretary General of NUSOJ. “To this end, and to determine to what degree Somalia is making progress towards SDG 16, assessing the level of KAP of journalists and media practitioners with regard to the safety of journalists and access to information was critical”, said Osman.
“The insights that emerged from this report will no doubt be instrumental in charting a way forward that sees media freedoms as part of a lived reality in Somalia,… this was a robust process that reviewed available literature, interviewed 120 media professionals and confirmed what NUSOJ has been highlighting and championing for years – that journalists operate in an environment rife with physical and online threats”, added Osman.
“This environment is made more vulnerable by a legal framework that is severely deficient; a contradiction of archaic and problematic laws such as the Penal Code and the Amended Media Law, alongside more progressive ones such as our Constitution,” Osman concluded.