Somali government has banned journalists from using the word Al-Shabaab in their news to refer to the armed group fighting the government and instead ordered them to refer to the group as “the group that massacres the Somali people” but Al Shabaab threatened to take stiff action against any Journalists or media that implements the government order.
The chairman of Somali Independent Media Houses Association (SIMHA) Hassan Ali Gesey talks about the dilemma facing his colleagues, bellow is the excerpt of the short interview.
1-Tell us about the new media restrictions by the Somali government?
HAG:Well, there has been a lot of media restrictions in Somalia because there is no total free media in the country but the most recent by the authority calling media houses and Journalists to stop using the word “Al Shabaab” and replace it with “UGUS” meaning “the group that massacres Somali nation” is the most challenging we have come across so far.
It is very unfortunate that security department led by National Intelligence and Security Agency (NISA) has renewed the restriction the same very day the world was marking World Press Freedom Day in front of the same Journalists hunted.
2-Why are you not in support of ditching the name if it is something to do with security?
HAG:We are first to help the government in the efforts of returning peace, security and stability in our country.
We believe that the government should consult the representatives of the Journalists and Media Houses in the country when taking security steps that directly involves the media because Journalists are killed almost every day and the measures taken by the government to address their security is not enough.
For instance, after the government order on the new move to stop the use of the word “Al Shabaab” in their news stories, armed group Al Shabaab too threatened to deal harshly with any Journalists or media company that implements the government order, so you can understand the dilemma we are facing.
3-What is the role of Somali media in establishing peace and stability in the country?
HAG:The role of the Somali media in peace building has been very clear from the start though there has been some isolated cases where some media mainly those in the remote part of our country were influenced by tribal allegiance factor.
Some Journalists have simply lost their lives for speaking out about unnecessary violence and corruption, others detained and some radio stations closed down but we still believe that media is key area in the reconciliation and peace building process in our nation which was affected by the decades civil war.
The government on the other hand should take the media as a partner in peace building and not an enemy within like terror organizations.
4-Lack of unity and sometimes division among various bodies representing Somali media and Journalists is also attributed to government behavior, how do you respond to this claims?
HAG:To my knowledge there is no division between the organizations representing Somali Journalists, I believe Somali Journalists and Media are united and strong more than ever before because their interest is one and that is free media.
5-Why do you think unlimited free media is important despite the security challenges linked to freedom of speech that government should deal with?
HAG:Free media has always been crucial to good governance and I don’t think in any way that limiting freedom of the press will help make Somalia more secure and peaceful.
As I have said before, the media is ready to cooperate with relevant government institutions on rebuilding and peace in our country.
That is what we have been doing and we believe it is our fundamental responsibility as the citizens of this country.
6-Where do you stand when it comes to the fight between internationally backed government and armed group Al Shabaab?
The role of the media is always impartial and neutral and that is what we are trying to do.
We are neither pro government nor pro Al Shabaab, we stand in the middle but there is always suspicion from both sides that the media is on the other side.
Somali media is here to cover and tell the outside world about the real news stories on the ground without fear and favour and thus we stand on the middle.
This Interview was originally published in Somalicurrent.com