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Journalists commemorate World Press Freedom Day; government disbands Media Council

(NUSOJ/IFEX) - On 3 May 2009, the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) held a conference on media freedom and safety of journalists to commemorate World Press Freedom Day (WPFD).

The conference, held at Hotel Sahafi in Mogadishu and attended by 54 journalists, MPs and members of civil society involved in media freedom campaigns and protection, was opened by the first Deputy Speaker of the National Assembly of Somalia, Professor Mohamed Omar Dalha. Deliberations centered on media freedom, media law, peace, dialogue, mutual understanding and reconciliation.

During the conference, the journalists and other participants called for the enactment of laws that enhance press freedom. They also discussed safety and security, saying that for the past 18 years, journalists in Somalia have lived in fear and insecurity. Some of them, the conference observed, have been killed in cold blood and with impunity by those who are against the truth.

Most of the journalists and other participants have also fled the country and were living as refugees in neighbouring countries.

They pleaded for the return of peace, normality and stability in the country so that they can build structures that can guarantee media freedom and better working conditions for journalists.

They also called for the drastic review of the media law. They insisted on the urgency of reappraising the National Media Council, which was launched two years ago, saying it was not representative and therefore lacked credibility, confidence and purpose in the media community, where many journalists live in conditions of fear and insecurity.

In response to the journalists' concerns and appeals from civil society, the Minister of Information, Farhan Ali Mohamud, announced that the media law will be reviewed because it was draconian and had provisions that are against the principles of freedom of the media. He said the law will have to be reworked within a month to reflect the realities of a modern world, democracy and media freedom.

He also disbanded the National Media Council, saying it had no integrity and mandate because it was not representative. The minister also observed that the National Media Council had remained moribund two years after its formation and that some people were using it for their personal interest to harass media houses and journalists they viewed as opposed to their line of thought or economic interest.

The journalists and the media managers participating in World Press Freedom Celebration at Hotel Sahafi said that the Council was undermining the work of the media and there was need to form a council which would serve the interest of the media in the country, independently and professionally.

"This is a great step towards establishing structures that can guarantee and support media freedom in Somalia. We hail the minister for his brave action and look forward to a working relationship that can benefit the entire Somali media community," said Omar Faruk Sman, NUSOJ Secretary-General.

"As a member of the Council, we welcome its disbandment. It was ineffective in respect to media and professionalism and had been hijacked by self-centered people who wanted to run it like a private company," Omar said.

He said it was also a positive step by the minister to say the media law will be reviewed. "We are ready to work with progressive people and we will be offering our participation, support and expertise in the effort to review the law and come up with something progressive," he added.

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