The African Freedom of Expression Exchange (AFEX), an Africa-wide freedom of expression network, has condemned the endorsement of a repressive Media Bill by the Somali Council of Ministers. AFEX in a statement called on the Somali Parliament to reject the Bill outright as it severely restricts media operations and content.
According to AFEX, the provisions in the Bill and the processes leading to its endorsement all point to an attempt by the Somali Government to heavily clamp down on media freedom and freedom of expression, which will deny the people of their democratic rights to a free and independent media.
The Network Coordinator, Venancious Ngmenkom Tuor said “After intense pressure from media groups, the draft media law submitted to the Somali Council of Ministers in June this year was withdrawn to allow for input from media stakeholders. However, this Bill does not take into account the media stakeholders’ concerns and this is a betrayal of trust by the Government.”
AFEX sees the Bill as nothing but a calculated effort to protect Government and its appointees to perpetuate abuse of power and censor the Somali people. The Bill establishes the National Media Council of 13 members: six appointed by Government; four from the independent media and three from civil society. It imposes a fine of between US$5,000 and US$10,000 on media houses breaching the proposed “code of ethics.” It also empowers the Ministry of Information and the National Media Council to set code of ethics for journalists.
Furthermore, the Bill stipulates that every media house must register at the Ministry of Information and pay an unspecified annual fee for a licence from the Ministry. It also allows the court to compel media houses to disclose confidential sources and name unidentified journalists. The Bill foresees “criminal offences” by journalists and media houses, which will be handled by the Attorney General and a competent court of law.
AFEX recalls the arbitrary arrests, torture and harassment of journalists and other free expression activists by armed security forces detailed by the Government and the lives of journalists being threatened by the Somali Government, all under the cover of the media “inciting the public and causing insecurity in the country.”
The Network expressed utter dismay at these developments, given that the Somali people, civil society groups, freedom of expression groups and the international community were all in opposition to the law. “By passing this Bill, Government proposes to use the court to perpetuate impunity, given that the judiciary in Somalia is weak and is also part and parcel of the executive branch,” states Venancious Ngmenkom Tuor.
AFEX said “The Bill is not in agreement with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and Article 9 of the African Union Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights, which guarantee freedom of expression for every individual. Nor does it conform with the Declaration of Principles on Freedom and Expression and Access to Information of the African Commission for Human and Peoples’ Rights.”
The statement said: “At a time when the global community is making efforts to rebuild the Somali State, AFEX expects the Somali Government to guarantee freedom of expression as a way of ensuring democratic development and consolidation.”
The Network, therefore, called on the Somali Parliament to reject the Bill. Furthermore, AFEX called on the international community, all free expression groups, free expression activists and civil society groups all over the world to rise against the passage of this hostile Bill.