Freedom of the Press 2009

The media environment varies significantly across the different regions, and media freedom depends largely on which entity is controlling a given area. In the south, the situation for the media remained extremely dangerous in 2008. The president of the Transitional Federal Government (TFG), Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, stepped down at the end of December, and appeared set to be replaced by Sheikh Sharif Sheikh Ahmed, a moderate Islamist leader. While this raised hopes for peace and greater media freedoms in 2009, the radical Islamist militant group Al-Shabab strengthened its position across much of south-central Somalia during 2008, instituting a harsh form of Sharia (Islamic law) and severely restricting all freedom of expression in areas under its control. Many media outlets in the south allied themselves with political factions as a means of survival, making neutral or objective reporting a rarity. The media environment in the self-governing northern regions of Puntland and Somaliland was markedly better.

In principle, Somalia’s charter provides for freedom of the press, but owing to the lawless nature of the country, journalists continue to face restrictions on their reporting in practice. There is no freedom of information law to guarantee access to public information. In December 2007, the Transitional Federal Assembly approved a media bill that was criticized by press freedom groups for imposing vague and severe restrictions, including limits on images and speeches. However, given the TFG’s tenuous control over its territory, the practical effects of the law remained unclear.

Somalia continued to be regarded as the deadliest country for journalists in Africa in 2008. Two journalists were killed, a decline from the previous year, but more than 30 faced death threats or attempted assassinations, and nearly 30 were arrested (though they were often released quickly) in relation to their work. The two journalists killed during the year were reporter Hassan Kafi Hared of the Somali National News Agency, who was slain by a remotely detonated landmine, and Nasteh Dahir Farah, the vice president of the National Union of Somali Journalists, who was reportedly assassinated by insurgents in Kismayo. Impunity is the norm for such crimes, and by year’s end no arrests had been made in connection with the murder of journalists in 2008 or any previous year. Several radio stations were shut down during the year, including Radio Simba, Radio Shabelle, and Horn Afrik in TFG-controlled areas, and Radio Markabley in a region under Islamist administration.

Photocopied dailies and low-grade radio stations have proliferated in Mogadishu and elsewhere since 1991; there were numerous radio stations broadcasting in Mogadishu in 2008. A number of outlets have ceased operations in recent years, however, and of those that continue to operate, many have been accused of bias, particularly in their coverage of the war or clan rivalries. Somalia has a rich internet presence, fueled predominantly by the Somali diaspora in Europe, North America, and the Gulf states. Internet service is widely available in large cities, and users enjoy a fast and inexpensive connection. Nevertheless, owing to pervasive poverty and the internal displacement of many Somalis, only 1 percent of the population had access to this resource in 2008. Although there were no reports of government restrictions on the internet, some factions reportedly monitored internet activity.

The status of press freedom was visibly better in Puntland, a self-declared autonomous region, but restrictions remain harsh and coverage of political and security issues can be particularly dangerous for journalists. Among other instances of violence against the press, Bisharo Mohammed Waeys, an anchor for the Eastern Television Network, escaped unharmed from an assassination attempt by several armed men. She later received threatening text messages and ultimately fled the country. In November, two foreign journalists reporting on piracy for London’s Daily Telegraph were kidnapped in Bossasso, the commercial capital of Puntland; they were released in the first week of 2009.

Somaliland, a region whose claims of independence have not been internationally recognized, enjoys more press freedom than the rest of the country. However, in advance of elections that were expected in 2009, journalists faced a greater level of harassment by the authorities in 2008 than during the previous year. The government also proposed a new Press Law to replace the existing, more liberal statute. The Somaliland Journalists’ Association has criticized the lack of dialogue in the process of drafting the legislation, and objected to specific provisions that would allow the Ministry of Information to influence media outlets’ managerial, financial, and editorial decisions. Journalists also protested the proposed requirement that they register with the ministry and hold a press card.

Whereas in previous years the Somaliland government and the press had a relatively conciliatory relationship, this was sharply reversed in 2007 and 2008. In 2007, several prominent journalists, including editor Yusuf Abdi Gabobe of the private daily Haatuf, were arrested but eventually pardoned following internal political pressure and widespread domestic protests. In October 2008, Al-Shabab carried out three suicide attacks in Somaliland, targeting the United Nations, the Ethiopian embassy, and the presidency. Five days later, the Somaliland government detained freelance journalist Hadis Mohammed Hadis and held him for two weeks, apparently for his coverage of the bombings. Somaliland journalists also faced threatening text messages and harassment from Al-Shabab.

In 2008, the number of independent daily newspapers in Somaliland grew to over 10, in addition to a government daily, although most newspapers were not economically sustainable and were heavily subsidized by the diaspora and journalists’ families. There were also two independent television stations and a government-owned station. The government has been reluctant to liberalize the airwaves, citing the potential of instigating clan violence, an argument that some Somalilanders support. The establishment of independent radio stations is banned, and government-owned Radio Hargeisa remains the only FM station. The internet is widely available at competitive prices and serves as an active forum through which the diaspora contributes to the local media environment.

2009 Scores

Press Status

Not Free

Press Freedom Score


Political Environment


Economic Environment