The Somali Council of Ministers yesterday adopted a new media Bill but journalists have criticised a number of its provisions considered as repressive on press freedom. The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) joins its affiliate the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) in denouncing the bill, saying that it represents a new threat against journalism in the country.
The new bill, which seeks to amend Somali media law adopted in 2016, introduces provisions that limit journalism activities. They include one concerning provision purportedly banning “fake news” and “groundless propaganda”, terms which are open to various interpretation and likely to lead to abusive claims from those targeted in news stories.
Moreover journalists will be liable for heavy fines of between $300 to $1500 for breaching the bill. The bill also grants the Ministry of Information the power to register journalists, issue them press cards and determine who is a practicing journalist.
The IFJ backs NUSOJ’s in its criticism for the lack of independence of the Somali Media Commission (SMC), a regulatory mechanism. The draft law proposes to give the government the power to approve the appointment of members of the Somali regulatory authority.
The bill also foresees that Federal Ministry of Information will have power to establish responsibilities and rules specifically to bind media professionals such as code of conduct or ethics. Both NUSOJ and IFJ insist governments must not interfere in the setting of journalists’ ethical standards which remain a matter for the profession
NUSOJ General Secretary Omar Faruk said: “The Media Bill, if enacted in the form that it was passed by the Council of Ministers, would endanger the independence of the media, stifle journalists’ freedom, impinge on the free flow of information and grossly violate the right to freedom of expression as stated in Article 18 of the provisional constitution of Somalia, and as elaborated by international and regional laws.”
IFJ Secretary General Anthony Bellanger said: “The new Somali media bill adopted by the Council of ministers yesterday is a clear statement of intent to muzzle the press. Somali people deserve better. It is time the government allows its people to be fully informed and its journalists to carry out their duties in line with international treaties and covenants that Somalia has ratified.”