By Mohamed Abdullahi Abubakar (Dhaaley)
Under the leadership of President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmaajo, the local media platforms in Mogadishu are said to have witnessed the worst era for press freedom due to the outcome of formidable oppression and subjugation imposed by the current government. This has resulted in the government being criticized for alienating the press and disregarding the globally accepted principals of freedom of expression.
For the last three years that the incumbent government has been in power, its oppositions have continuously alleged it of following an unprecedented disingenuous approach in dealing with the independent Somali media outlets based in Mogadisho and further afield. The government’s attitude towards the press was regarded to be detrimental to the fabric objectives of the free press that is meant to be ensuring for the general public an undeniable right of accessing and obtaining accurate and balanced information about all issues happening around them.
In pursuit of a self-conducted survey on the current situation in which local media are operating, we’ve been able to get ahold of some high profile media personalities who argued that despite the endless concerns local residents are raising about the deteriorating situation in Mogadishu, the daily news coverage of many newsrooms in the city are blatantly bypassing the public voices, a clear sign that indicates how the media’s key role in addressing social problems has been thrown under the bus by the government’s outpouring desire for drawing the curtains on its shortcomings.
Requesting their identities stay anonymous for personal reasons, our respondents have highlighted that the government has managed to get the independent media cowed into its desire by utilizing manifold techniques; such as bribing the bosses of independent newsrooms, intimidating them; or as a last resort, infiltrating their own editorial and production teams when the first two attempts proved to be futile.
Most of those who spoke to us in this survey have concurred that the current government is considered as the first, in Somalia’s contemporary political history, to have allocated special budget to the local media in order to get them paid for relinquishing their freedom and succumbing to the government’s repressive policies against the independent media. Delving into this matter, we’ve learnt from reliable sources that the office of the president’s media department has been in charge of managing an estimated monthly budget of 40,000 USD to be used for bribing the local media. However, we couldn’t confirm the authenticity of these allegations from government sources, although several attempts we’ve made towards this cause ended up fruitless.
During the course of this survey, we’ve also been told that the government’s ill-intentioned efforts to triumph over the freedom of press were not just confined to local media, but went further to make its way towards some Somali-speaking foreign newsrooms. The bitter truth about this was that some individuals from those platforms including their correspondents in Mogadishu fell into the government’s trap by agreeing to give up their rights of fulfilling their journalistic duties independently and impartially in short-lived backdoor dealings that were later discovered and prevented by the top managements of those organizations.
According to our sources, the government’s intention in engaging with local media was initially depicted to be a positive way of cultivating a constructive and collaborative relationship among the two sides, but eventually it turned out to be a greedy strive by the government to hijack the space of the media and weaponise it to punish whoever harbors political sentiments different to theirs.
At one of the first meetings to discuss the agreement with the local media, government officials who were responsible for handling the matter have enjoined media representatives in attendance from broadcasting anything that would seem to be harmful to the government’s policies. Instead media platforms were instructed to give a huge space to whatever the Somali authorities want to communicate to the public.
Being assured that the majority of the media platforms were bound by its bribe-fueled agreement; the Somali government felt the urge to apply draconian approaches in confronting few media stations that resisted the government’s temptation and carried on with their impartial way of broadcasting. Most of those media faced enormous challenges from the government and were subjected to profound intimidation and threats. In what believed to be deliberate and planned attempts to cause harm or fear, some media stations have either had their offices attacked or their staff or properties assaulted by government soldiers in 2019.
Aside from the offensive actions taken by the government, plenty of hurdles were laid on the path along which the journalists and their newsrooms have to travel when seeking balanced and reliable news. Unlike to previous governments, public offices and other government installations have now become less accessible to journalists, and this kept independent media out of the loop with all activities happening there. Consequently, the only source that journalists can turn to for government-related news became the government itself.
With the independent media that accepted to give up the ownership of their news coverage, the line between them and the government-owned ones have blurred to an extent that no differences can be noticed in the elements of what both broadcast as news, since they are all in receipt of the same press releases prepared for them to pass on to the public without including any input from their side.
At individual levels, journalists and media bosses who are not in tune with the government’s perspective towards the press are going through unimaginable ordeal. Expressing the horrible life some journalists are experiencing in Mogadishu at the moment, a TV director said “Journalists in Mogadishu now fear from the government more than Alshabab. We realized that anyone who tries to be adamant to the government’s dictations would face dire consequences. We don’t want to die or get hurt at the hands of those who meant to protect us”.
Although the government’s pressure on local media is still mounting, some unsubstantiated claims suggest that interest-driven disputes within those responsible for managing the government’s corruptive deals with local media has hastened the project to come to a halt with a possibility that new techniques have been employed as a replacement.
In spite of the fearful atmosphere journalists in Mogadishu currently live in, many believe that with the considerable number of media outlets and journalists who are showing their willing to remain unshakable in the face of the government oppression, freedom of press will continue to exist against all the odds.
Mohamed Abdullahi Abubakar [Dhaaley]
Email: [email protected]
Mr. Abubakar is Multimedia Journalism Student at the University of Wolverhampton, UK
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