Somali journalists’ body slams ‘draconian’ media bill

Mogadishu, 8 July 2019: The Somali Journalists Syndicate (SJS) has expressed its displeasure over the media bill passed by Somalia’s Lower House of parliament on Monday, 8th July 2019. The SJS termed the amended draft law draconian and called on the Upper House to fully review it and open consultations with journalists and media representatives so that their input is added into the bill.

The SJS pointed out that Members of the Parliament (of the Lower House) voted and passed the Media Bill without prior consultations with the concerned groups including journalists’ representatives.

Under the new bill (as amended), media editors and directors will be handed down a fine of $300 to $1,500 for breaching sections of the new law including but not limited to publishing false news. It also empowers the Attorney General to instruct the arrest and prosecution of critical journalists and media stations.

While the country has seen an increase in the number of private media, the new bill advocates for restrictive measures against establishing new media outlets by imposing a deposit of an unspecified sum of money which is not part of the fees normally paid during the registration process. All pre-registered media houses will be required to seek for a new mandatory registration within 60 days after the bill takes into effect.

In a worrisome trend, the new bill mentions the establishment of a nine-member Somalia Media Committee (SMC) by the Ministry of information, which will be drawn from the Ministry of Information of the Federal Government of Somalia (FGS) and Member States including Banadir Regional Administration (BRA). The committee will be under the complete control and command of the information minister.

“We are very worried about this new draconian law which restricts the freedoms of journalists and that of the media. It imposes a fine of $300 to $1,500 on any editor or director of a media house for violating this law, It gives more powers to the Ministry of Information including registration and vetting of journalists,” Abdalla Ahmed Mumin, Secretary-General of SJS said.

“Surprisingly, it also imposes the establishment of the so-called Somalia Media Committee, which according to this bill, will be a governmental body drawn from the Federal Government and six member states without giving a single member to the independent journalists and their unions,” Mumin added.

“The Somalia Media Committee is very crucial and we, therefore, call for enhancement of its independence by limiting the government’s role in appointing the members of this committee, refraining from the extension of its member’s term. Importantly, the approval of the budget of the press committee should be under the Parliament – not under the Ministry of Information,” Mumin further added.

Furthermore, the bill obliges journalists to register and get Identification Cards provided by the Ministry of Information, clearly violating the rights of journalists to have their own self-regulated registration. The bill also bars certain journalists from joining the profession.

In its statement, the SJS has called on Somalia’s Upper House to fully review the bill, allow journalists’ unions to share their input through consultations. The SJS also demanded the withdrawal of all vague clauses and definitions aimed at limiting press freedoms and the rights of journalists to exercise their profession. These include the requirement for the journalists to be authorized or licensed to join the profession.

“All articles requiring content regulations should be removed and redundant definitions such as clauses indicating national interest and fake news should be eliminated. Also, there should be no requirements for a journalist to be authorized or licensed to join the profession,” the SJS secretary-general, Mumin said.