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Journalists fight back flawed media bill after so-called review by Somali cabinet

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The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) and affiliate media organizations including Somali Media Association (SOMA), Media Association of Puntland (MAP), Somali Independent Media Houses (SIMHA), and Somali Women Journalists (SWJ) are dismayed about the endorsement of what was called a reviewed Somalia Media Bill by the Somali Cabinet on Thursday 13 July ,2017 in Kismayo.

Members from Somali media organizations hold a meeting subsequently on Friday and Saturday 14,15 July 2017 following the cabinet endorsement of Somalia media bill. They expressed their concern over Somali government’s failure to take into account most of their recommendations and requests proposed by the independent media organizations and Somali media partners including Somalia Media Support Group (SMSG).

Profoundly reading the reviewed clauses and by comparing it to the previous ones, the media watchdogs found out that there were no substantial amendments and changes made by the cabinet and literally this seems another abortive attempt of ruling out any achievement through the expected review which could have given full assurances of freedom of media and freedom of expression in the country.

“We’ll negotiate with the Media Committee in the Somali parliament and we will carry this battle to the next stage and lobby against any attempt to deny the media of this country to gain full freedom. We hope that parliamentarians will be wise enough to amend the media law properly before passing it, otherwise it shall be another lost opportunity” said Mohamed Ibrahim Moalimuu NUSOJ Secretary General.

“We, the independent media in general, aren’t against having a media law in our country but we are interested to have a media law that aligns with the international standard by providing legal framework that will contribute to the establishment of an enabling environment for the freedom of the press, freedom of expression and access to information as enshrined in the national constitution of Somalia.” said SOMA Secretary General, Ismael Sheikh Khalifa.

Independent Somali Media Organizations would like to thank the government of Somalia particularly the Ministry of Information on its attempt to review media law and for the minor amendments it did but we would like now to appeal to the Members of Parliament who have the ability to amend the clauses we still have the concerns and we politely request them to reconsider the requests and calls from Somali journalists and their media organizations.
The latest review gives an excessive power to the Ministry of Information a power that could lead to full control of the media freedom.

Key recommendations and changes from the media organizations

Below is a summary of key recommendations and changes from the media organizations to the reviewed Media Law:
Media output should not be required to reflect the ‘right information and ideology.

Consideration should be given to doing away with the distinction between journalists and other members of the media professionals.

Consideration should be given to doing away altogether with the obligations placed upon journalists. Instead, the law could include a provision appropriately tailored to the protection of confidential sources of information.

Publicly funded media should be transformed into true public service media, protected against political interference, operating in the public interest and accountable to the public rather than the government or Ministry of Information.

A comprehensive law on access to information should be adopted in line with international standards and better practice.

Finally, Somali Media Organizations believe the government can be a useful tool to media freedom by accepting these recommendations. It is now the parliament’s task to listen to us and save the freedom of the media and freedom of expression when the media law is brought before them for their approval.

We look forward to an international standard media law that frees the media and does not attempt to control them.
Here are some of the articles in the reviewed media law which we are still complaining about.

Clause 25.2 says- The Ministry of Information and the Media Commission in consultation with journalist’s organizations in the country shall set the regulations of the general code of ethics of journalism, which shall stipulate the following issues, among others:

A- Respect for the Islamic religion and sound Somali culture.
B- Accuracy and reliability of news reports and programs, and protection of confidential sources of information unless a court orders to be disclosed.
C- Avoid to disseminate or publish videos and photos that are against the sound conduct of the society.

First of all, as independent media organizations we want the journalist code of conduct is to be established by the journalist professionals in close consultation with the Somalia Media Commission and other media stakeholders therefore, Government or Ministry of Information should not have a role in establishing the journalists code of conduct.

The minister of Information has full power according to article 40.1 C .To take an urgent decisions related to security emanating from media outlets.

Article 35.1 explains who can become a journalist and says journalist is anyone who has journalist knowledge and has been in the journalism industry for about two years. Under international law, the freedom to seek and impart information and ideas can never be conditioned on a certain diploma or membership of a professional association
Article 36.1 tells – The journalist should not violate the rights of a person, organization, places of worship, Islamic religion, laws of the country and sound Somali culture, this clause is totally contrary to the article 48 on the interpretation of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR)

We also see as unacceptable and direct limitation to media the below clauses in article 36 which say
36.7- If media outlet sees the need for the anonymity due to the security of the anonymous source and that of the nation, they can broadcast the information, without revealing the confidential source. They shall, however, keep the source and the information properly, to be disclosed when needed. The disclosure of the source and the information may be ordered by a court if there is a dispute.

36.8- If the information provided by the sources leads to an outcome that cannot be obtained from elsewhere, and a court has ordered for the disclosure of the source of information, the media shall disclose the source where they obtained from and related evidences when ordered so by the competent court, which shall decide on the method of meeting the source, whether secretly or otherwise.

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ILO rules in favour of Somali journalists’ trade union

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The International Labour Organisation has ruled against Somalia in a case brought against it by trade unions in the country over infringement of freedom of association.

The ILO’s Committee on Freedom of Association asked the federal government to institute “independent judicial inquiries” for serious violations of freedom of association and persecution of trade unions, identify those responsible, punish the guilty, and prevent repetition of such acts.

“The committee urges the government to provide without delay full explanations on the reasons for the arrest on October 15, 2016, of Mr Abdi Adan Guled, vice-president of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ),” the ruling said.

The committee also asked the government to “provide information on the outcome of the investigation into the assassination of Abdiasis Mohamed Ali, a member of NUSOJ.”

Mr Ali, who worked for Radio Shabelle and Shabelle Media Network, was assassinated in September last year in the capital Mogadishu.

The committee’s directive was part of a ruling on a case filed by the Federation of Somali Trade Unions, NUSOJ and the International Trade Union Confederation against the Somali government.

The three accused the government of “serious threats, acts of intimidation and reprisals against members and leaders of the NUSOJ and the lack of adequate responses by the Federal Government of Somalia.”

This year’s recommendations follow similar directives issued last year, which trade unions claim, the government ignored.

The unions accused the government of meddling in their internal matters by creating parallel executive committees.

The government denied the plaint, and told the UN labour body that it was seeking to resolve political differences between the union federation and policymakers.

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In Somalia, Slain Journalists’ Deaths Go Unpunished

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For the third year in a row, Somalia has ranked as the world’s leading country where slain journalists’ deaths go unpunished.

Over the past decade, all 26 assassinations of journalists in the East African nation have gone unsolved, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which released its annual impunity index, titled “Getting Away With Murder,” on Tuesday.

The New York-based non-profit gathers data on news workers killed in retaliation for their journalism, excluding those who die in crossfire while reporting in dangerous areas such as combat zones (but are not directly targeted).
CPJ, which seeks to underscore international barriers to media freedom, publishes its findings every year to document patterns of impunity, such as those consistently seen in Somalia.

According to the United Nations, at least 930 journalists were assassinated worldwide in the decade leading up to 2017. During that period, just one in 10 reported cases led to a conviction. More than 60 media workers have been killed this year.

Political reporters under fire

Somalia is gripped by a decades-long civil war and brutal insurgency being waged by the extremist al-Shabab, an Islamist militant group.

Since the country’s civil war erupted in 1991, at least 64 journalists in the country have been killed as a result of their work, including 39 political reporters and 29 war reporters. CPJ, which began keeping track of worldwide journalist deaths in 1992, has confirmed the motives behind their killings, and reports that the vast majority of known perpetrators have been members of political groups.

Mohamed Ibrahim, now the Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists, has covered politics and other news beats in the capital city of Mogadishu for 15 years, reporting for outlets including the BBC and Reuters.

Throughout his career, Ibrahim says he has been threatened, harassed and assaulted several times, mostly by al-Shabab militants and senior officials of the Somali government. Illustrative of the broader dangers of his job, he also narrowly survived al-Shabab attacks while working at a Somali parliament building in 2010 and at Lido beach in Mogadishu last year.

Ibrahim still finds himself looking over his shoulder when he leaves home, fearful of a targeted strike by someone who is unhappy with his reporting or advocacy for press freedom.

“Journalists are often targeted and I advocate for their rights and protections, so I know it is a high risk environment,” he told HuffPost from Mogadishu. “So many journalists like me have risked their lives to serve their people and [distribute] the information they have the right to hear.”

Lacking institutional capacity and political will

As a result of the ongoing conflict, Somalia’s federal government does not assert central authority over the entire nation, which has allowed armed groups like al-Shabab to spread and seize territory over the years.

“In general, Somalia lacks structures of central government, so in countries like this that might be called ‘failed states,’ there are very high levels of impunity. It’s a combination of the lack of political will as well as the lack of institutional capacity,” said Courtney Radsch, CPJ’s advocacy director. “That’s the key challenge ― [the government] doesn’t have access to certain parts of the country, and they don’t have a fully functioning judiciary system or police force.”

Rare government investigations into journalist killings only occur when the accused perpetrators are al-Shabab militants, and almost never lead to prosecutions, according to Human Rights Watch. Promises from Somali authorities to improve media laws and protections have repeatedly fallen short.

Laetitia Bader, a senior researcher for HRW’s Africa division who has reported on killings, threats and arbitrary detention of Somali journalists, said they’re being “pulled and threatened by all sides.”

“Since the start of the civil war, there wasn’t really a strong civil society per se,” she told HuffPost from Nairobi, Kenya. “It feeds into a broader problem of just lack of state protection of individuals, although journalists have always been targeted throughout the conflict in Somalia.”

Somali journalists are being “pulled and threatened by all sides.” Laetitia Bader, Senior Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch
Journalists are also particularly vulnerable, Bader explained, because the news “is a very big part of everyone’s day and a key source of information” in Somalia. “Somalis love listening to the news … so fundamentally, there’s a recognition that journalists can play an important role in getting your agendas across.”

An increasingly complex political situation in the country has led to “more political actors with much more at stake,” she said. “So once again, this need to control information has become a bigger issue.”

Threatening and punishing journalists can be lucrative for political figures who want to “control the narrative,” said CPJ’s Radsch.

“It’s not surprising in a country like Somalia where there are so many warring factions,” Radsch said. “They want to control the narrative, or cover up their own corruption, or gain political power. Journalists often stand in the way of that, or uncover uncomfortable revelations.”

The cycle of impunity

Somalia is hardly the only country in the world where there are extensive risks for journalists.

In its latest report on “the safety of journalists and the danger of impunity,” the U.N. concluded that impunity for journalist slayings around the world is “alarmingly high,” and perpetuates “a cycle of violence that silences media and stifles public debate.”

But the danger in Somalia is particularly acute. The country’s impunity rating, which CPJ determines by calculating countries’ numbers of unsolved journalist killings per capita, has shot up by 198 percent since 2007. Radsch attributed this drastic increase to the cyclical effects of impunity.

“It’s very dangerous to be a journalist in Somalia, and it’s very unlikely that murders will be investigated,” she said. “When people see that there is no one who has been convicted, and no follow-ups on the murder of journalists, it sends them the signal that ‘Oh, it’s ok to murder journalists.’”

While conducting research in Somalia, Bader has spoken with several journalists who survived assassination attempts, but were hesitant to report the attacks to authorities.

“Half said, ‘We did [report], and we got laughed at or were told to go get guns,’ and the other half basically laughed at me saying ‘Why on earth would we go to the authorities?’ ― who are often the ones threatening them,” she said.

As the numbers reflect, many journalists have not been fortunate enough to escape with their lives.

Radio journalist Abdiaziz Ali was reportedly gunned down while walking through Mogadishu last September. He covered the civilian toll of Somalia’s conflict between government forces and al-Shabab militants for the Shabelle Media Network, an employer of at least eight slain journalists over the past decade.

Months earlier, gunmen fatally shot 24-year-old Sagal Salad Osman in the head before fleeing the scene. Osman was a university student and worked for the state-run Radio Mogadishu.

“The killing of Somali journalist Abdiaziz Ali must not be allowed to become yet another statistic in a country notorious for not bringing journalists’ murderers to justice,” Murithi Mutiga, CPJ’s East Africa representative, said at the time. “We urge Somali authorities to leave no stone unturned in determining the motive for Abdiaziz’s and Sagal’s killings and finding and prosecuting those responsible.”

But more than a year later, the culprits behind their killings are still at large, like dozens of others before them.

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British Miss Universe model says people need to #StandwithSomalia if newspapers don’t

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Muna Jama, the model who represented Britain at this year’s Miss Universe contest, has urged everyone to show their solidarity for Somalia after Saturday’s horrific terror attack.

At least 300 people were killed and another 200 injured when a lorry bomb was detonated in the centre of Mogadishu.

Five days later, people in the city are still clearing away the rubble – and the charred remains of their loved ones – from the city. Around 165 people have had to be buried without being identified, as their bodies were so burned they were beyond recognition.

Muna, who is a British woman of Somalian heritage, made history in August by becoming the first Miss Universe contestant to wear a kaftan rather than a bikini. As well as having spent time campaigning in the country, Muna has a lot of family and friends living in Somalia – but after the attack happened she struggled to find information about it online. But she told Metro.co.uk she later realised that, where the mainstream media fails, the general public needs to step in.

It’s shocking because a typical Saturday in the western world is a day filled with happiness – it’s a day to recharge, to meet up with your family and your loved ones. So to hear what happened in Somalia, considering I’m British-Somali myself, is just shocking,’ she said.

It was overwhelming for myself and my loved ones because we’re over here, and there’s nothing that at the time we felt like we could do. ‘The numbers from the attack are just horrendous. Amongst the victims are young boys, young girls. ‘Myself, I recently came back from Somalia earlier this year when I was campaigning out there against illegal migration, and I bore witness to the severe drought and ongoing famine, and that’s something the people of Somalia are currently dealing with, still. ‘So many Somalis are homeless – and then, for this terror attack to happen… I guess we were all taken aback.’
Muna added that the show of solidarity on social media that she’s seen has almost made up for the relative lack of traditional media coverage. She said: ‘Just today I saw a message of solidarity sent all the way from Brazil. I know it’s not in a newspaper, but it’s still in the media in a way, because it’s on social media. ‘

We need more people to not sit in silence, to use their platforms to speak to one another.’ Muna recently joined the conversation by adding a photo on Instagram with the hashtag #StandwithSomalia. Now, she wants people to use that hashtag to share images and information from the scene, as well as support from around the world.

‘I want people to use that hashtag to share information or updated photos, or anything that will encourage positivity and show that the one common goal we have internationally is to stand against terror,’ she continued.

‘We witnessed that here in the UK, and it was such a dreadful time, but we stood in solidarity and unity – and that was despite our religion, despite our backgrounds, despite our colour, because Britain’s so multicultural and diverse. ‘Somalia needs to know that they’re not alone in this, and that it’s not acceptable.

We need to donate to groups working on the ground in Somalia, and to use hashtags to communicate with one another.’ With that in mind, she’s pledged to use her considerable platform to speak to others, so that they can share information and get it out there for people.
‘I’m British-Somalian – and it’s powerful to know that I can be from two different backgrounds, but still be able to use my voice to share people’s feelings and thoughts,’ she said. ‘It’s really good to know that although I’m so far away from my loved ones and those affected, technology brings us closer together. We can communicate online and people can upload messages.

‘The world should know that Somalia is a lot stronger than it appears. ‘There has been a lot of suffering, but these people are brave. They’re standing together within the community.’ A Gofundme raising money for Aamin Ambulance – Somalia’s only free ambulance service – has raised more than £22,000 so far

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