By Tesfa-Alem Tekle
Ethiopian authorities suspended 15 foreign media outlets which have been operating in the country’s Somali regional state for allegedly operating without license.
The regional journalists’ association however says the actions was taken in retaliation to the medias reports that exposed the corruption and the severe drought facing the region.
The suspension comes few days after the federal government’s main media regulatory body, Ethiopia Media Authority (EMA) passed a directive ordering regional authorities to ban the media houses.
In a letter written on 27 January, Ethiopian Media Authority (EMA) has urged the Somali Region Communications Bureau to take measures in collaboration with law enforcement agencies on individuals working for foreign media outlets without having media licenses.
The letter states the authority has found out in an investigation that there are media outlet representatives and journalists who are operating in the regional state without having licenses from the federal government media regulatory body.
However, the letter did not reveal the names of the alleged media outlets.
Following the letter, on Saturday 28 January, the regional state’s communications bureau issued a statement ordering the suspension of operations within the region by 15 media outlets.
The list included, among others, BBC Somali, MM TV, Universal TV, Horyaal TV, RTN TV, Universal TV, Five TV, Sahan TV, Horn Cable TV, and Goobjoog TV.
An official within the regional bureau said that the media outlets are suspended for failing to have proper media accreditation.
However, Abdulrazaq Hassan, chairman of the Somali Region Journalists’ Association, said the regional government played a vital role in banning these media outlets using the license issue as a pretext.
“License is not the only reason for suspending the media outlets, these media were covering corruption, conflict, and drought related issues exposing the ruling party,” Abdulrazaq told a local media out let, Addis Standard.
“We have been asking the regional government communication bureau to renew our licenses, which is usually renewed after every six months,” Abdulrazaq said, further accusing the regional government of having an intention of silencing critical foreign media outlets in the region.
Repeated attempts by The East African to get comments on the matter from the Somali Regional Communications Office were unsuccessful.
Since conflict in Ethiopia’s northern Tigray region broke out in November 2020, press freedom in Ethiopia has sharply deteriorated.
During the last two years, Ethiopian authorities have arrested dozens of journalists including NMG correspondent in Ethiopia who were reporting on the conflict.
CPJ, a New York-based press freedom group reports that at least 63 journalists and media workers have been arrested in Ethiopia during the last two years.