Somaliland media associations and practitioners concluded a two-day ‘national media conference’ on a theme covering the merits and demerits of media in Somaliland Sunday.
The conference was organized by the Somaliland Ministry of Information and Culture.
During the two-day get-together speakers and panelists touched on a great number of topics which ranged from government harassment of practicing journalists, to proposed media taxes to excesses and vagaries of an unregulated media in Somaliland.
The Somaliland Journalists Association (SOLJA) and Women in Journalism (WIJA), particularly, tried to project the wider views of practitioners lamenting the clumsy attempts of the government, in the person of its incumbent Minister, Abdirahman Abdullahi Farah ‘Guri-Barwaqo’, to impose a police-state-like censorship off-the-cuff regulations on practicing media. A number of occasions he put satellite television stations off the air or called them into his office to threaten them closure was cited. The increasing number of people collared just because they did not tow the ministry line or ‘infringed’ upon hitherto unheard of offenses were also raised.
The government, on its side, tried very hard to put its stamp on the conference right from the beginning – and it succeeded to a large degree. Ministers who spoke at the venue all strove to establish that the government was benign, tolerating and considerate to journalists if anything and that it was the independent media that had to blame for everything including arbitrary arrests, closures, and expulsion from employment in the case of government-employed journalists.
Through several veteran ‘journalists’ posing as independently minded contributors and resource persons as well as ‘advisors’ and senior journalists on government employ, the government succeeded to beat dissenting voices into retreat.
At the end, the Minister, himself, read out nine points that he could live with – at the moment – but would not be beholden to honor all as they, also, provided him ample ground to break them at will in the name of ‘national interest’. In fact, those old enough to have lived under the old military regime were resigned to the recapitulation of principles so cleverly steered into by the Minister and his implants at the conference.
The Communique stated:
- Media practitioners had to understand role in fostering development, patriotism, defense of national sovereignty and coexistence
- The government and media associations to jointly promote training on skills development and dignity of journalists will be (consequently) safeguarded
- No journalist will be illegally arrested
- Somaliland media to bring to task any journalist who broke the law (!!!)
- To complete an on-going revision of the 2004 ‘Media Law’
- To strife to protect proper use of the Somali language
- Realize that much has been achieved until now and that challenges to be tackled exist
- Stop focus on politics and to, instead, give space to social issues
- Avoid coverage of issues detrimental to security and national unity
The conference said nothing about the formation of the much-talked-about independent media commission or the support of existing journalism training facilities. It neither said anything about how the government will be convinced not to exploit the many loopholes the communique provided it to continue riding the media subjugation it has become so fond of and, especially, in the light of its propensity to throw even social media users for comments made on Facebook, for instance.
Groping In The Dark
The Somaliland independent media has lost a one-in-a-million opportunity in 2011. Concerned international press freedom organizations such as the American IREX and Dutch PressNow came to the rescue of a then, seemingly vibrant media in Somaliland. The organizations, on different stages, hired international and national media experts to look into a regulation which helped the independent media evade government pressure and persecution.
The organizations brought the appropriate sub-committees of the parliament aboard. It also gave commensurate space to the Ministry of Information.
Drafts the like of which few countries in the world enjoyed were presented to the media.
Perhaps, unfortunately, the presentation of Somaliland-specific, original Press Law and a complete Broadcasting law draft coincided with the election of a new government, although activities much pre-dated it.
Elements among the then media-related people immediately – and intentionally – misinterpreted the move convincing a great number among the younger-generation practitioners that the laws were, indeed, oppressive and were being introduced by the government – the opposite of what the laws wished to achieve. As many of the journalists were not conversant in English, it was regrettably too late by the time a Somali Press law version of the was provided. Brainwashed and misled, 90% among them did not even look at the text.
The elements who, for personal reasons, wound the clock back for a truly promising media at the time loomed large in this latest ‘conference’ pretending championship of a free press.
This time around, Minister Guri-Barwaqo won. Greatly pressured by the society for, besides his behavior as Minister, writing a book that was a slur both to Somali culture and Islamic faith which insulted women that both highly respected women as mothers, wives, and sisters, the Minister projected one image to the President, another to the media. The Somaliland Guurti House (Senate) ordered all copies of his book to be burned only a week before. To the president, he wished to impress upon him that he was an able helmsman who could steer the independent media to where he wanted it to be. To the media, he wished them to understand that he was not talking tough and was an understanding guardian who was open to reasoning. He did not need to as he gave them nothing.
This time around, as in 2011, the independent media lost despite the brave stand but futile stand SOLJA Chairman, Mohamoud Hutte made at his opening speech on day one, as it gained nothing that it did not have before the ‘conference’ was convened. One may even say – and rightly so – the government contrived to perceptibly tighten the noose to slowly snuff the life out of the independent media to render it a putty to toyed with at its convenience.