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In Part Three of our three-part series on the media in Somalia,Somalia Report presents an overview of Puntland's media landscape. Part One focused on Somaliand while Part Two covered mediamania in Somalia.
The media in Puntland covers print, radio and TV with radio being the dominant source of information due to high rates of illiteracy and lack of TVs in many homes. Mobile phone coverage is excellent and communication via SMS and internet is an important source of secondary news transmission.
Puntland is a mix of bustling urban centers and small outposts. The active role of the government in reshaping Puntland, threats from violence by al-Shabaab, pirates and criminals, political back and forth and natural calamities make media a critical part of the social fabric.
Although the demand for media coverage is high, so, too are the threats and risks to media professionals in Puntland. Some Puntland journalists claim they face ongoing censorship, harassment and arrest by the government. In addition to concerns from the government, al-Shabaab, the hardline Islamic group batting for control of the country, and the ubiquitous 'unknown gunmen' continue to murder journalists and attack radio stations.
Puntland has the same basic problem that much of Somalia faces. Any journalist that dares to expose wrong doing, corruption or portray a group in a negative light can simply find himself threatened, beaten or killed.
For those willing to become a journalists, there are few training programs available, leaving young journalists to learn on the job. Furthermore the lack of clear accreditation and standards creates confusion between outright propaganda (the planned dissemination of information or rumor to harm a targeted group, person, idea or institution) and well researched and presented facts designed to educate the population and allow them to make better informed decisions.
The rapid evolution of Puntland's democratic political structure, and the necessary communication of information to the population makes the region's need for clear communication even more important.
Conversely groups that oppose the government prey on journalists and journalists regularly engage in partisan attacks based on clan, region, topic or competitive agenda. It is more common for separatist, criminal, political and religious groups to publish agenda driven material than to promote an environment of factual communication. Those journalists that publish articles that contain information considered to be deliberately damaging or negative know that there are consequences. Even Somalia Report's publication of the media landscape in an effort to promote fair and free reporting requires careful consideration of the ultimate effect it may have on our journalists.
Government Protection and Censorship
"A free and independent media government of Puntland plays an essential role, enabling access to public information, presenting balanced views on socio-political issues to ensure the development of democratic debate, critical for the promotion of peace and democracy in Puntland," is the official stance of the Puntland government, according to Ahmed Omar Hersi Puntland Government Presidential Spokesman who spoke to Somalia Report, however nearly twenty journalists have been arrested in Somalia in the last two years.
The Puntland's Transitional Constitution guarantees freedom of the press in Article 35, some journalists say they are regularly harassed, censored and even arrested by government forces. The law declares that, "The media and the information agencies have the right of freedom to their institutional duties, without any interference and hindrance to their objectives. A special law shall be promulgated for regulation of media and information agencies."
The same constitution also says, "The constitution of the Puntland government, Article 22 A, of the Communication Act, (a) says media cannot promote public incitement, nor terrorism or anything banned from by Puntland law."
However, the constitution limits the actions and statements of the press.
"The media is banned from endorsing or encouraging terrorism. Some journalists in the past have done so and it has led to the arrests and prosecution. The Puntland government promotes freedom of speech but clearly states as I have mentioned before that promoting terrorism or public incitement will lead to subsequent arrests and prosecution before a judiciary," explained the spokesman.
Using this law as justification, the government of Puntland has arrested at least 17 local journalists including media directors, editors and publishers. Throughout our investigation, a number of Puntland-based journalists told Somalia Report that they believe the government unfairly cracks down on dissenting voices. Conversely we did find support at the top of the government to provide clear statements and protection to journalists (both domestic and foreign) to report on Puntland, but at the same time a lack of follow through on the lower echelons. For example after being being given permission to interview and photograph a famous pirate held in jail, the mid level person assigned to facilitate this interview tried repeatedly to prevent the interview, even going so far as to try to knock the camera out of the journalist's hands. There is a gap between intention and execution. Generally the Puntland government is open to direct press queries and within reason, will facilitate the safety of journalists.
There have been notable cases in which media workers and business have been specifically targeted by government forces. Some recent examples include the following incidents:
-- Liban Abdi Farah, reporter of Somali Broadcasting Corporation (SBC) in Galkayo, was arrested on March 19, 2011 as he reported on a bomb blast in Galkayo. He was released after 13 days of detention without trial and with no charges filed against him, according to the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).
-- On June 29, 2011 Faysal Mohamed Hassan of Hiiraan Online (HOL) was arrested by Puntland police for "jeopardizing security of Puntland and publishing false news."
-- Radio Galkayo journalist, Abdullahi Hersi Adde, was arrested in Galkayo on December 20, 2011 by Puntland police for unknown reasons. The police also temporarily shut down the station.
-- In his address to the 27th session of parliament on October 30, 2011, Puntland President Abdirahman Mohamud Farole accused Universal TV and Somali Channel TV of being an obstacle to the security of Puntland and banned reporters from covering the event.
-- On March 3, 2012 Bosaso police looted equipment from Codka Nabada (Voice of Peace) Radio on March 3 of this year. The police arrested the director of the station at midnight while at home and he is currently being held in the Central Police Station of Bosaso. The station was later closed while airing a program. Police officials have retained the keys to the compound.
-- April 3, 2012 - Staff of Puntland’s Deputy Security Minister Abdi Jamal Osman attacked five reporters and correspondents in Bosaso’s Bandergazim airport while reporting on the arrival of a former security minister and opposition leader Gen. Abdullahi Said Samatar. The former minister expressed his intention to run for presidency against Puntland President Farole and is a vocal opposition leader. Reporters lost at least four cameras and two were beaten by the security staff.
Assassination, Attacks and Kidnappings
Censorship and risk of arrest aren't the only threats to local media professionals. Journalists have been faced with attacks by gunmen in recent years, some cases have resulted in death of journalists.
Tom Rhodes of the Committee to Protect Journalists explained the dangers faced by local journalists.
"Puntland, especially Galkayo, is rapidly becoming as dangerous for journalists as the formerly war-torn Mogadishu. We have already seen two of our colleagues in Puntland killed --along with a shuttered radio station and imprisonment of the station's director this year alone. Puntland journalists are stuck between a rock and a hard place with Islamic militias who target journalists and an unsympathetic administration that imprisons and intimidates journalists without following their own legal system," Mr. Rhodes told Somalia Report.
The Puntland government also condemns the attacks.
"The Puntland government is well aware of the risks journalists take every day to provide imperative and essential reports that shine a light on issues touching people across Somalia and the world. We support the work they do and our police and authorities are striving to protect their rights, freedoms and security while reporting in Puntland state. Despite our efforts, recent killings of journalists have occurred in Puntland. The government was deeply saddened by these heinous acts and is currently investigating the matter which is linked to terrorists," the presidential spokesman told Somalia Report.
--This month Farhan Jeemis Abdulle was shot four times by two gunmen as he walked home in Garsoor Village. Farhan was not the first nor will be he the last Somali journalist to be killed, injured or threatened.
-- Ali Ahmed Abdi, a reporter with Galkayo Radio was killed earlier this year after three armed men shot him in the head as he was going home. Local media urged the government to investigate the cases, but no one has yet been arrested for the attacks.
--On 14 September 2011 Ms. Horriyo Abdulkadir, a news anchor for Radio Galkayo, was shot by gunmen as she returned from work in Galkayo.
--A few days later on September 22, a journalist for Voice of Peace, Hassan Mohamed (Anteno), was critically injured by unknown gunmen in Bosaso.
--Attacks on media houses have also plagued journalists in Puntland. Such attacks include
On October 18, 2011 assailants threw a grenade into Radio Galkayo.
Daljir radio station was also hit by an explosive device on August 26, 2011 in Galkayo which injured a security guard.
Kidnappings are also poses serious risks to journalists, particularly foreign correspondents.
In 2007 a French journalist was kidnapped.
--In 2008 four journalists (two Somali, two European) were kidnapped with the UK and Spanish hostage being ransomed.
--In January of this year a German journalist was expelled from Puntland for eluding his government provided security teams.
--A day later an American journalist, Michael Scott Moore, writing a book about pirates, was kidnapped while on his way to the airport in Galkayo.. None of these events were related to suppression of what they wrote but it underscores the difficulty facing even Western reporters.
The NUSOJ cited a growing number of examples of Puntland's media repression in their 2012 report and urged the government to stop their harassment.
"The suffering endured by our colleagues in north-eastern regions under the control of Puntland is still extreme... Baseless criminal proceedings were slapped with a journalist in the face of unfair and politically motivated trial. Journalists who are not necessarily promoting the interest of current administration had to receive suspensions," NUSOJ Secretary General Omar Faruk Osman wrote in his report.
"We call on...Puntland authorities immediately to stop campaigns and acts to persecute, threaten and delegitimize journalists, the national journalists’ union and private news media organizations," he added.
Abdi Rizak Hassan Abdi, the director of ‘Daljir Radio’ in Bosaso told Somalia Report, "We are volunteers working for the community and the Puntland government should understand the importance of the media," said Mr. Abdi.
Mr. Abdi's focus on the government does not reflect statistics gathered by Somalia Report (see below) but the ability of the government to silence dissenting or even inflammatory voices causes concern.
The blame, some media professionals say, also rests on Puntland journalists who have been able to create and sustain an effective lobbying or standards group to work with the government on creating guidelines.
Mohamed Abdi, a TV correspondent in Garowe, explained the lack of an active local media association may be part of the problem facing Puntland media professionals, but not for lack of trying. In 2009 the Media Association of Puntland (MAP) was established in Garowe by National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) but it has since become a inactive organization due to lack of funding and enthusiasm.
Between 2004-2007, two Puntland media associations, Puntland Media Association (PUMA) and Puntland Journalist Association (PUJA) were established by the local media and funded by Swedish aid agency DIAKONIA, but are also inactive.
In January of this year, the Bari Media Committee was formed to protect the common rights of local media professionals. The Committee is made up of seven journalists from across the region who have been holding consultative meetings in the recent months in which local media personalities have been discussing cases of abuse against media professionals in Puntland controlled areas.
Despite the challenges and in light of these cases and incidents, the Bari Media Committee (BMC) issued six articles with press releases signed by the seven members of the committee during a meeting. The articles were as follows:
• BMC condemns the closure of Codka Nabada Radio station and the looting of equipment by the police. The committee requests that the government of Puntland return the looted equipment and re-open the radio station and allow it to resume normal functions.
• That the government officials respect freedom of expression and release Awke Abdullahi Ali or charge him accordingly in a court of law if he clear reasons for arrest and prosecution exist. It is illegal to detain an individual for more than 48 hours without charging the individual.
• BMC also referred to the aggressive attack, torture and looting of gear belonging to the attacked reporters. Five local journalists whose equipment was looted must be given their cameras without condition.
• We believe that figures among the Puntland state are apparently targeting reporters and sometimes employ their security staff to cause damage or inflict pain upon the reporters without reason. This continues to create conflict and rancor between the government and local media. In addition to that, the government should initiate investigations in to these cases.
• Due to accustomed misuse of power by security staff working for government officials, all local media in Bari region have agreed to temporarily stop airing programs related to the Ministry of Security including press conferences held by the security officials.
These decisions were made after the Puntland government demanded that local media should not interview al-Shabaab or Atom’s militia. Officials have forced journalists to only report on their version of Galgala conflict.
In conclusion, the committee condemned the increasing murder incidents targeting Somali journalists referring to the last victim Ali Ahmed who was killed in Galkayo Town. The committee encouraged journalists to practice tolerance and work bravely for their community.
Reasons for Conflict
Journalists in Puntland who spoke with Somalia Report collectively agreed that the underlying friction between them and the government are due to the following:
• Government officials do not talk to the media when incidents occurs and events take place. They are difficult to reach and do not return calls or emails
• Government bans the local media from conducting interviews with the opposition, presidential candidates, Galgala militia and Islamic insurgent groups
• Media’s conflicting need for balance and impartiality while reporting
• Lack of support of the media by the government
• Lack of a code of conduct for positive engagement between the media and government. Puntland government has prepared this in 1998 but it has not been passed in parliament.
Lack of Training Local Journalists
Despite its apparently dangerous reputation, journalism is a job admired by many Somali youths and Puntland is no exception. There are few opportunities for professional training and accordingly many high school-educated youth receive on-the-job training as journalists.
To counter this lack of training and education a group of journalists established an Institute of Media and Performing Arta (IMPA) in Bosaso in 2010. More than 50 journalists graduated during the short period it was open, but the institution eventually shut down due to lack of support.
Abdullahi Wardi, a former teacher at the school, told Somalia Report that IMP was the only media and journalism training facility in Puntland. It was run by journalists who were paying for it by donating their salaries. Despite their attempts to get financial support from the government and development agencies, their eventually ran out of funds and the institution was closed. The journalists believe that they could re-open the school with cooperation of partners.
Professor Aden Herow who lectures at the Mogadishu University affiliate in Bosaso believes that the local media have played and exemplary role for the last twenty years such as tool of communication for the community to include drought and security coverage.
"Local journalists do not deserve abuse and I call on the government to support young media professionals by providing them with quality education," the professor told Somalia Report.
Local Media in Puntland
There are at least 12 local FM radio stations, four local TV stations and four newspapers operating throughout the region. Each outlet must be licensed by the Puntland government (who have their own media outlets), but operate under different guidelines and policies established by the respective owners.
"These private media agencies regularly meet and organize awareness programs, panel discussions and forums to promote freedom of speech and media in Puntland. The Puntland government supports these organizations and provides security if requested," Mr. Ahmed Omar Hersi told Somalia Report.
Radio Station (Year Founded)
1. Radio Galkayo, Short Wave (1993), Galkayo
2. SBC Radio FM (2001), Bosaso, Gardo and Garowe
3. Codka Nabadda Radio FM (2004), Galkayo, Bosaso, Mogadishu
4. Radio Daljir FM (2004), Galkayo, Bosaso, Garowe, Gardo, Buhodle, Abudwak
5. HorseedMedia FM (2007), Bosaso
6. 1Nation Radio FM (2010), Bosaso, Garowe
7. Radio Garowe - pro governemnt (2005), Garowe
8. Radio SPR FM (2010), Dhahar-Region Sanaag
9. Radio Hikma (2006), Bosaso, Garowe and Galkayo
10. Radio Voice of the Women FM (2011), Garowe
11. Radio Hage - shortwaves
12. Radio Galkayo (2010)
1. Kaaha Bari (1992), Bosaso
2. Ileys, pro-government (2008), Bosaso
3. Himilo (2011), Bosaso
4. ETN (2005), Bosaso and Garowe
1. SBC TV (2006), Bosaso
2. Bosaso TV (2012), Bosaso
3. Al hikma TV, Galkayo
4. Puntland TV, Galkayo