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Media freedom is on the slide despite a better political climate

August 1, 2013

WHEN Liban Abdullahi Farah was gunned down in Galkayo, a city in the central province of Puntland, in July, he became the sixth journalist to die violently in Somalia this year. This comes as a media law just introduced in Mogadishu, the capital, forces journalists to reveal their sources, curtailing whatever press freedom existed previously.

In Somaliland, an autonomous region in the country’s north, independence-minded leaders tout media freedom as one of several democratic achievements. But they are beginning to display some of their big brothers’ ugly traits. In April an off-duty policeman and an accomplice attacked the offices of Hubaal, a newspaper, in Hargeisa, the capital. Its manager, Mohamed Ahmed Jama Aloley, was beaten and shot. He suffered a broken arm before colleagues could wrestle his assailants to the ground.

The paper’s woes were far from over. In June it was suspended after publishing a series of articles criticising the regional president, Ahmed Mahamoud Silanyo. The editor-in-chief, Hassan Hussein Kefkef, received a two-year prison sentence for slander and false reporting. Out on bail pending an appeal, he complains of a government “in the shadows”.

Unlike in the rest of Somalia, the laws of Somaliland explicitly protect the freedom of the press. Yet few follow them. Nonetheless, Somaliland’s media industry is thriving. Hargeisa alone boasts 13 newspapers publishing in Somali and English.

Abdirashid Jibril Yusuf, the director-general of the information ministry, says the government is merely trying to stamp out sloppy practices. He is keen on better media training as well as stiffer penalties. “When we have more professional journalists who know their mistakes, we can control [the media].”

Somaliland is keen on foreign investment. “We are peaceful, unlike Mogadishu,” one official claims. Messrs Aloley and Kefkef may beg to differ. Published in The Economist.

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