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Due to its relative stability, the media landscape in the self-declared republic of Somaliland continues to grow despite successive efforts by the authority to bar licensing of a second radio station and ongoing media repression of local journalists. Somaliland boasts a vibrant print media sector in comparison to neighboring Puntland, a semi-autonomous region of Somalia, where newspapers are virtually non-existent as well as south central Somalia where a few newspapers exist due to the al-Shabaab militant group which controls much of the south. In the past five years, the television sector has seen some growth and penetration into global satellite, notably the Arab Sat.
The Radio Sector
Due to the low literacy levels and Somali's oral culture, radio remains the dominant medium to disseminate and receive information across Somaliland and Somalia. A transistor radio can be found in nearly every household in Somaliland.
Every government has refused to grant a license for a second radio station in Somaliland despite several applications by individuals wishing to set up a station. Even the current government which promised to liberate the Somaliland airwaves during its campaign trail has failed to keep its word.
The two previous regimes led by the late Mohamed Ibrahim Egal and Dahir Rayale Kahin both refused to heed requests to license new radio stations to compete with the existing state-owned, Radio Hargeisa citing that the security of the country would be compromised. They pointed to Rwanda’s Radio des Milles Collins which was largely accused of fanning and perpetrating the genocide in Rwanda. Indeed the late Egal, a veteran politician, was once quoted as telling his cabinet that he would allow the growth of newspaper as the readership was low, but vowed he would not allow more radio stations to spring up.
Radio Hargeisa, which lacks impartiality and quality programming, covers only a radius of 40kms from Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. Due to its limited footprint it is not heard by more than three quarters of Somaliland inhabitants. However, last week the Somaliland information ministry announced the arrival of a new 100kw radio set from china which it claimed will be heard across Somaliland.
According to analysts, the Somaliland government stance towards the licensing of a second radio station has led some of Radio Hargeisa audiences to migrate to the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) Somali and Voice of America (VOA) Somali Service whose programmes they believe are of better quality, diverse and impartial.
The Television Sector
Since 2003, the TV sector has seen the entry of two privately run stations, Horn Cable and Somaliland Space Channel. Initially viewers were only accessing the public funded Somaliland National Television (SLNTV) which is still firmly within the grip of the government. All the three TV channels can be watched via satellite. Their entry into satellite television has remarkably increased their viewership across Africa, Middle East and Europe. Like other local TV stations in Somalia they can be watched in virtually all Somali households in the Diaspora via the satellite. This has also improved the profile of the station and enabled the Diaspora to remain up to date with events in their homeland.
However, investment in the TV sector remains minimal. This may partly be attributed to a lack of data and and information with regard to the performance of the sector for would-be local and foreign investors there is still lack of information on the television sector’s performance, growth and returns. Their website does not provide any information on this aspect and there seems to be an assumption that little or nothing can be achieved from the sector.
Somali foreign based channels like Universal and Raad TV have correspondents based in Somaliland's major towns after getting permission from the authorities, but government officials continue to remain wary of them and believe they intentionally want to portray Somaliland in bad light.
The private station sources of income are mainly revenue from poorly made adverts, with the telecommunication sector and money transfer companies as the key advertisers. Currently Horn Cable and Milgo Digital, a local company, run subscription services where subscribers are able to receive close to a 100 channels most of which are foreign film, soap opera, documentary, sports and news channels. Subscribers are required to pay a monthly subscription fee of only US$10.
There is a downside trend whereby stations like SLNTV and Somaliland Space Chanel does not adhere to intellectual property or international copyright laws and air foreign programmes without any agreement or payment of required fees to the parent broadcasting companies. Stations, for example, re-transmit live soccer matches, such as those of the European Champions League and the World Cup, from foreign channels such as Abu Dhabi Sports, SuperSport without arrangement and making any payment.
The Print Sector
Somaliland commands a brisk print sector in comparison to other areas of Somalia. Newspapers growth in the past years has shot up remarkably almost a newspaper or two is launched every year and they currently stand at ten daily newspapers and two weekly English newspaper. The dailies include Saxafi, Ogal, Jamhuriya, Waheen, Saxansaxo, Dawan, Yool, Foore, Hatuf and Geeska Afrika while the weeklies which are published by Hatuf and Jamhuriya respectively are the Somaliland Times and Republican.
With an exception of Dawn, formerly known as Mandeeq, all the newspapers are privately owned. The pioneers are Hatuf and Jamhuriya both of which were started in 1991 when Somaliland seceded from Somalia. News entries are Yool and Foore.
Despite almost all of them being private, it is assumed the print media still serve the interests of those who own and control them. Most of them have been writing hard hitting articles against the government of the day. Despite its vibrancy in Somaliland the print sector continues to face myriad of problem ranging from government crackdown, lack of modern printing press to low circulation, caused to some extent by a lack of aggressive marketing strategies.
Most newspapers are still distributed and sold only in a few urban centers, because of a lack of reliable transport to small towns and rural areas. An additional challenge for the newspapers in Somaliland is affordability for the readers. Considering the low average household income in the country and the price of a single paper typically being the equivalent of about .40 cents (US), few people can afford to buy a newspaper on a daily basis. People tend to resort to radio for news and current affairs. In general, newspaper owners find it very difficult to make a revenue or profit.
To no fault of their own, many Somaliland journalists, like their counterparts in Somalia, lack formal training in journalism and are among the lowest paid in the region. Unfortunately, the lack of formal training (due to decades of warfare in the country), some journalists flout basic journalism ethics and standards. Local journalists demanding a token from events organizers, aid agencies officials or politicians to attend a press conference or cover an event is a common occurrence across Somaliland.
A common place to find journalist are cocktail parties in popular hotels hosted by either a commercial organization or certain know political figures where they are guaranteed meals, refreshment and some cash at the end.
The journalists plight hasn’t been helped by their organizations' inability to raise enough revenue or lack of credible and effective institutions of higher learning that can offer journalism courses. This situation has impacted negatively on the quality of media practitioners output and their outlets. It’s uncommon to read an interesting feature or a powerful investigative article in most of the prints. Also viewers are at times served with raw footage or unedited clips of certain events or press conference which are long and boring to watch.
Some international aid agencies have tried to cash on the Journalism and Somaliland media sector predicament by purporting to offer journalism courses and equipments to the media houses. The Organizations were backed by millions of dollars mainly from the European Union and USAID but after spending year and the cash the situation has hardly improve. Most of the journalist and media lobby groups in Somaliland concur the organization intervention has had no meaningful impact on them and their organization despite their name and plight being used when the money is sourced
A common trend among the media support organization is lack of coordination, competition, duplication of activities and their intervention not preceded by needs assessment studies thus leading to low impact. There is no single organization that has set up or supported a long term training projects among the few institution of higher learning which is the effective way to address the huge trainings needs in media sector.
The Lesser Evil
While the absence of the rule of law in south and central Somalia and especially in al-Shabaab control areas has led to the muzzling of media and the killing of journalists, some local journalists who spoke to Somalia Report believe Somaliland's crack down might be the lesser evil.
Somaliland did develop its own set of media laws and during the previous government of Dahir Rayale tried to implement a restrictive press law, but it was met with strong opposition from journalists and civil society groups the government eventually relented and shelved the draft law.
Nonetheless, at a time when the world honored “World Press Freedom Day” the media in Somaliland was repressed and their rights violated more than any other time. During the low key event in one of Hargeisa's hotels, media lobbyists accused the new government, led by Ahmed Mohamed Silanyo, of repeatedly cracking down and arresting journalists across the country without tangible reasons. According to the secretary general of Somaliland Journalist Association (SOLJA), Mohamed Rashid, in a span of four month 51 journalists were arrested by the Somaliland government (see partial list below).
Rashid worried the spate of arrest have instilled fear among the media practitioners and dampened their inquisitive spirits. He asked the government, which was represented by the Information Minister Bobe Yusuf Duale, to reverse the trend and respect the rights and freedom of members of the fourth estate. Duale promised to look into the situation and make available support like media training.
The current government was overwhelmingly backed by the private media especially the print during the election period and on repeatedly promised to improve the working condition of journalists and ensure they enjoy freedom as guaranteed in Article 32 of the Somaliland constitution.
Somali Journalists Arrested by Somaliland (partial list)
July 5, 2011 - Editor of Jamhuuriya Arrested for Publishing 'Anti-Somaliland' News
January 4, 2012 - Four Journalists Arrested in Las Anod
January 14, 2012 - Six Journalists Arrested in Las Anod
February 21, 2012 - Subulahanews Journalist Arrested and Beaten in Custody
March 31, 2012 - Journalist Arrested in Las Anod
April 3, 2012 - Universal TV Reporter Arrested
April 15, 2012 - Three Journalists Arrested in Las Anod
Media Outlets in Somaliland
Radio Hargeisa (Haregisa), State Owned. The only one in Somaliland established in 1945 by the British Colonialists
Horn Cable (Haregisa), Privately owned by Farhan Haji Ali, a Somali-American
Somaliland Space Chanel (Hargeisa), Privatly owned. Founded by Somalilanders in Qatar.
Somaliland National Television (SLNTV)
Saxafi, Mohamed-Rashid Muhumed Farah (Chair SOLJA)
Ogaal, Owned by Muse Farah Jambir
Jamhuuriya, Owned by Faysal Ali Sheikh, Hassan Sicid and Khalif Nuh
Geeska Afrika, Owned by Maxamed Huseen Jaama (Rambo)
Haatuf, Owned by Yusuf Abdi Gabobe
Dawan (formerly Mandeeq), State Owned
Yool (no website)
Waheen, Owned by Ahmed Hussein Isse
Somaliland Times, Owned by Yusuf Abdi Gabobe
Republican, Owned by Faysal Ali Sheikh, Hassan Sicid and Khalif Nuh (no website)