Somali journalists urge lawmakers to reject repressive media law

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The amended and flawed media law, pushed by the new information minister Abdirahman Omar Osman and was passed by the cabinet in Mogadishu in July has dashed hopes for fostering a better working environment for journalists and free expression in the country.

By Jeff Mwaura, jeff@alleastafrica.com

NAIROBI – Somali journalists have called on the country’s parliament to reject the endorsement of the new repressive media law which they say is aimed to curtail press freedom and gag journalists.

The amended and flawed media law, pushed by the new information minister Abdirahman Omar Osman and was passed by the cabinet in Mogadishu in July has dashed hopes for fostering a better working environment for journalists and free expression in the country.

Somali journalists say they had initially asked for amendments and had expected to review it with the government and the parliament for fine-tuning this year, a request earlier accepted by the government.

However, the government has instead rushed it to the cabinet which instantly passed it, worrying journalists who started a new campaign against it.

Somalia’s information minister Abdirahman Omar Osman has since announced on Saturday that he submitted the bill to the parliament which is to be reviewed by MPs for an approval on Sunday. The bill is seen by journalists as the most controversial piece of legislation that the federal government so far takes to the parliament.

“The decision by the Council of Ministers to endorse this media bill is retrogressive and depicts an establishment hell-bent on curtailing freedom of journalists to practice their chosen profession by rubberstamping such draconian law that will be exploited by the government and those allied with it to intimidate and harass the independent media in order to cover up for the ills in government,” said Omar Faruk Osman, the secretary general of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).

According to the journalists, the effects of the restrictive clauses in the bill could seriously damage the media and the right to freedom of expression in the country as the changes the bill introduce undue state interference in media regulation and control over journalists.

Last year, Somali journalists fraternity and the government agreed to form an independent, and self-regulated Press Council to work together on drafting the media.

However, according to the journalists, the government has instead handpicked members of the council largely from the state-controlled media, sparking protests by journalists who said that the latter would lead to self-censorship by media “fearing retributive measures by the council.”

Being a journalist in Somalia is dangerous: job. At least two journalists were murdered in 2016. Authorities have used various tactics to restrict media coverage, including arbitrary arrests and forced closures of media outlets, threats, and occasionally, criminal charges.

The Islamist armed group Al-Shabab also targets journalists for reports deemed unfavorable to the group.

Not surprisingly, journalists often have to self-censor on key issues of public interest, including security and governance, to stay safe, according to the New York-based rights group, Human Rights Watch.

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