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NUSOJ condemns new communications law as a "licence to restrict" independent broadcasting and media freedom

(NUSOJ/IFEX) - February 20, 2012 - The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) condemns the latest government moves to stifle and control freedom of expression, freedom of information and independent broadcasting, following the announcement of the completion of the Somali telecommunications and broadcast media bill by the Ministry of Information, Telecommunications and Posts of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG).

NUSOJ believes that the process was neither inclusive nor sufficiently consultative, and expresses its fears that the resultant legislation will be used to undermine independent broadcasting, disrespecting editorial independence and the pluralism of broadcasting organizations, while hindering the free flow of communication and information to the people of Somalia.

The union views the secretive appointment of a consultant by a UK-based company, Albany Associates, with the use of UN funds, at the request of the Minister of Information, Telecommunications and Posts, as lacking transparency and validating efforts to manipulate and produce repressive regulations that will have long-lasting, serious and negative impacts on freedom of expression in Somalia. Moreover, a number of key stakeholders from the telecommunications and media sectors were not invited to provide input in this critical process. Only handpicked individuals were chosen to “rubber stamp” the process.

“We are of the view that the consultative process has not been inclusive and transparent, and that there may have been a scheme to deliberately make the regulation a means of government control over communications and independent broadcasting,” said Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary General. “We believe that this is an approach of exerting government control over the private broadcast sector.”

While the Ministry of Information fails to take forward the reformed draft media bill, and continues to arrange repressive attacks on journalists and their organizations, the Ministry hurriedly goes for a process which is meant to impose excessively harsh and severe regimes for the regulation of the thriving private media broadcasting sector of Somalia.

The Ministry foresees to establish a commission, which is feared to be a tightly controlled and highly politicized institution. Broadcast media and journalists see that the Ministry wants to have a stranglehold on the medium that serves as the primary source of news and information for the majority of Somalis.

One senior official at the Ministry of Information, Telecommunications and Posts informed NUSOJ on condition of anonymity that the regulation is meant to “censor the content of broadcast media.”

“This is a clear fight to weaken the existence of a wide range of independent broadcasters and programming that represents and reflects Somali society as a whole,” added Osman.

The Ministry of Information, Posts and Telecommunications of the TFG announced that the communications “law” for the Somali telecommunications and broadcasting industry had been “finalized” after a two-day consultative meeting.

“Developing a stringent law in a mysterious manner demonstrates efforts to subject private broadcast media to considerable political interference and censorship,” added Osman.

“NUSOJ maintains that there has been no such 'broad consultation of the relevant stakeholders' as claimed by the Ministry, and warns that the process is meant to undermine independent broadcasting and make it susceptible to government interference,” declared Osman.

NUSOJ expresses complete disapproval of efforts to put resources into the development of regulations meant to curb media freedom, freedom of expression and the free flow of information. The union will pursue an organized and active campaign against the proposed repressive regulation.

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