Somalia's journalists still lack freedom and security in their work. The threats persist and the authorities in the different regions are loath to allow their citizens more freedom of expression.
The situation for press freedom was very uneven in 2002 in the two breakaway states of the north (Somaliland in the northwest and Puntland in the northeast), where there were a sizeable number of privately-owned news media, although they were struggling to function because of an almost non-existent market. Things were little better in the rest of the country. Many journalists continued to flee abroad because of persistent threats and the woeful economic conditions.
Foreign journalists were still not safe in Somalia. The local news media often accused the international press of supporting the opposing camp, which endangered visiting foreign correspondents. Foreign reporters were usually denied access to areas where human rights violations or serious incidents are the rule. Islamic courts also systematically barred them from attending trials.
On the occasion of World Press Freedom Day on 3 May 2002, Somali journalists set up an organisation called "Journalists against Terrorism" with the aim of "strengthening peace, freedom, justice and equal rights." It intended to report all human rights and press freedom violations.
Pressure and obstruction
Some 20 armed men stormed the headquarters of the official radio station of the Transitional National Government (TNG) in Mogadishu on 11 February 2002. They removed broadcast equipment, cassettes and records, preventing the station from broadcasting.
Ali Abdi Aware, head of the privately-owned Somali Broadcasting Corporation (SBC), announced on 23 May that he was closing his radio and television station at the request of the Puntland authorities. He had received a letter from an official the day before telling him that his licence was being withdrawn because it was a commercial licence that did not provide for programmes of a political nature. The SBC was thought to have been targeted because of its criticism of Col. Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, who had just recovered military control of the region, and because of its regular coverage of the party led by Col. Ahmed's political rival, former Puntland president Jama Ali Jama.
Somaliland's information minister announced on 5 June that no privately-owned radio stations would be permitted in the region because of the "potential dangers." "No other voice but that of the national station Radio Hargeysa will be heard on the air," he said. Anyone in possession of broadcasting equipment was ordered to hand it into the authorities or risk being prosecuted. Several private individuals and opposition parties had asked to be assigned a frequency in order to open a radio station.
On 16 August, the BBC's correspondents in Somalia, Ahmad Muhammad Kismayo and Muhammad Khalif Gir, were banned from working in Puntland. The president's chief of staff said their coverage of events in the region was not objective.
The parliament of Somalia adopted a new press law on 28 September that banned the publication or broadcasting of news running counter to the country's "common interests" but did not define what this meant. News media that ignored this provision would henceforth risk losing their licences. Information minister Abdulrahman Ibi said the aim was to "reorganise and regulate" the media. All of the country's privately-owned media (about 20 newspapers, 10 radio and TV stations and several Internet sites) began a two-day strike on 2 October and said they would carry no more government statements until there was a new press law. They resumed working as usual a few days later without having achieved their demand.
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