“State, law and Shabaab: The perplexing garb of fear wrapped around Somali media”

On Wednesday May 10, 2023, LAILLAH MOHAMMED shared a perplexing report on the state of media freedom in Somalia. Despite the recent World Press Freedom Day celebrations, Somali journalists continue to face insurmountable challenges. Al-Shabaab, the extremist militant group responsible for heinous crimes against humanity, remains the biggest violator of media freedom in the country. Shockingly, at least 80 journalists have been killed in Somalia over the past 15 years. And while most of these deaths are attributed to al-Shabaab, press lobbies in the country are quick to point out the role that government officials have played in undermining media freedom.

Omar Farouk Osman and his colleague Nima Hassan Abdi lead the National Union of Journalists (Nusoj), one of the few organizations working to promote press freedom in Somalia. According to them, the difficulties Somali journalists face have evolved over time. Beyond security concerns, journalists must now contend with the challenges posed by social media and the threat of fake news. Given the weak and archaic legal framework for media regulation in Somalia, government officials often use legal loopholes to harass journalists and suppress negative coverage.

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Somalia does not have a media council, which means that self-regulation is limited, and journalists often face discriminatory and abusive practices, especially female journalists. The death of Hodhan Ali, a Somali Canadian journalist killed in a terror attack in Kismayu alongside her husband, symbolizes the high price many journalists pay for their work in the country. Despite these challenges, Omar and his colleagues remain optimistic about the future. They are calling on the government to take more concrete steps to promote media freedom and hold perpetrators of crimes against journalists accountable.

Regional media practitioners share these concerns and are worried about governments clamping down on media freedoms and access to information. The lack of a free press means that audiences are denied access to the truth and suffers. Some worry that the lack of institutional memory among younger journalists could have long-term consequences. Nonetheless, Omar and his colleagues remain hopeful that journalism will continue to thrive in Somalia.

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