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New Draft Media Law Puts Undue Restrictions on Media Freedom

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President Farmaajo Should Return Media Law to Parliament for Revision

The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) wishes to express its deep concerns regarding the provisions of the “New Draft Media Law”, which grants the Federal government and federal member states expansive powers to interfere with the work of journalists and independent media houses, and is further likely to frustrate reporting on critical public interest issues in the country.

Somali journalists have repeatedly raised serious concerns about the negative impact the law would have on media freedom in the country, however, all the progressive proposals to amend the draft media law in line with international standards of freedom of expression, were consciously disregarded, and instead, harsh changes have been introduced that seem to have further aggravated this problem.

NUSOJ has noted a number of provisions in the draft law that would undermine free expression. The law would greatly increase government control over the independent media through the Ministry of Information and Culture and within a complex set of regulatory bodies. The law has a number of vague, unacceptably broad restrictions on the content of what may be published or broadcast, including a prohibition on “false news”, “encouragement of tribalism”, “baseless propaganda” and “violating sound Somali culture”.

The draft law would establish a costly and unnecessary new system of prosecutors and courts specifically to bring and hear civil cases regarding “media crimes”. The draft media law would generate civil sanctions for a long new list of “media crimes” – vaguely stated acts or words. Particularly the draft media law will open the door for the federal government and federal member states to arbitrarily prosecute journalists to undercut free expression.

The draft media law specifies a registration scheme which extends to a very wide range of publications/broadcasters. This registration scheme introduces substantive conditions, including obligatory registration of media houses at Federal Ministry of Information, Ministries of Information of Federal Member States and at the Media Commission, a body which lacks independence from the government.

It is extraordinary that a professional code of conduct for journalists will be predetermined in a law, as setting professional code of conduct for journalists is purely a self-regulatory matter for journalists. The draft law – which imposes draconian restrictions of who can be a journalist – further requires journalists to be registered to be recognised for practicing journalism which is against the international standards as every person has the right to practice journalism. 

The draft media law further takes away professional bodies the right to issue journalists’ ID cards and imposes restrictions on access to journalist ID cards, despite the fact that the issuance of ID cards to journalists is a self-regulatory matter.

NUSOJ has strongly urged President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed “Farmaajo” to decline to sign the new draft media law until both houses of the federal parliament revise provisions restricting the right to freedom of expression, noting the important role that the free media is performing at this critical juncture in our country’s history as Somalia is to hold elections.

The Federal Government has recently taken laudable steps to protect journalists, and has released detained journalists and took remedial actions against violent soldiers who abused journalists as part of the government’s action to address the culture of impunity and abuse of power by the elite. However, the draft media law, as endorsed by the Senate, represents a serious step backwards in terms of respect for media freedom and freedom information in Somalia. The government, being a member of the UN Human Rights Council, should be acting to solidify media freedom gains, not seeking to strengthen forces inimical to media freedom.

President Farmaajo, as the custodian of the Provisional Constitution of the Federal Republic of Somalia, should uphold his commitment to human rights and refuse to sign these media restrictions into law as they constitute clear violations of Article 18 (freedom of expression and opinions) and article 32 (right of access to information) of the supreme law of the land.