Overview

Since the fall of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, armed battles have resulted in uncontrolled violations of the laws of war, including indiscriminate attacks, unlawful killings, rape, torture and looting throughout Somalia. Committed by all sides, these atrocities have caused massive civilian suffering. To this day, the current government, backed by the African Union Mission to Somalia and the Ethiopian armed forces, remains at war with the Islamist armed group al-Shabaab, which controls areas of territory and important transportation routes. This collapse and the civil war resulted in Somalia becoming politically fragmented and being divided into several states, (Somaliland which declared self-independence in 1991, Puntland in 1998, Galmudug, Jubaland and South West State after 2014, Hirshabeele in 2017) each with their own laws regarding the media culture in their own territory; eg the State of Puntland currently has its own media laws and is going forward in creation of its own media council.

Unfortunately, these rules and regulations are implemented in their own way, which has caused a lack of overview. Next to this, these laws are still regulated underneath the umbrella of the federal overarching legislation which still acts according to the constitution of 1960 as the new federal constitution of 2012 is still a provisional constitution that has not been fully implemented yet. And although Somaliland is considered to be one of the federal member states by the government of Somalia, it has declared its independence in 1991 and has no association or ties to the government of Somalia.  

Before the collapse, under Siad Barre’s authoritarian rule, the state had a total monopoly on the media. There was no freedom of the press and no independent media were allowed to operate.

After the state collapse in 1991, Somalia fell into an orgy of violence, terrorism, piracy and a recent devastating drought. The country us politically fragmented. Press circulation is limited because of the conflict and the fact that the country has one of the lowest literacy rates in the world. Somali only became a written language in 1972, and because of the civil war very few books or newspapers are published in it. Televised news is also not widely available. Though Internet usage has increased in recent years it remains more of an urban phenomenon, and while it is popular with young people and diaspora returnees, it is not widely used by those who are illiterate or lack access to the necessary technology and Internet-services.

Somalia’s media landscape is currently characterized by the dominant role played by radio, mainly because of the strength of the oral culture in the country, its high illiteracy rates and because the medium is relatively inexpensive. The TV and print media-sectors are weak and radio is by a long distance the dominant medium. There are at least 56 radio-stations, though there is no national or domestic broadcaster.

Though Internet penetration remains paltry, the increase of Somali digital news outlets has massively grown in recent years. This growth has largely been driven outside Somalia’s borders from its large and influential diaspora.  

Another important factor to consider is how conflict has shaped the media environment and created a fragmented political map. Somalia has suffered from political violence and weak central government. According to Transparency International, Somalia remains for the 10th year in a row the most corrupt country in the world. The media system has often reflected the major political divisions in society.            

The media reflect the deep schism that clannism has created in the society – which in part has fuelled the conflict in the country, which is a difficult country to govern. The state has always struggled to create a unified nation on a non-clan-defined basis. Clan affiliations become important where media outlets only report on their clan elders or report about attacks on their own clans – giving audiences an eschewed view of the news. Another problem is the perceived, or lack of, clan affiliations – journalists are routinely accused of either siding too much or too little with their own clans.  

There is also a good deal of rumors and spread of unsubstantiated news stories that find their way onto the news. Journalists are offered money to cover certain stories, and because most lack reliable salaries, some will take advantage of this opportunity. In some other cases the issue is not that journalists take payments, but that they are not able to confirm the news that they hear, due to security concerns or lack of available corroborators, so they may release stories that turn out not to be true. Finally, there is also the problem that some journalists lack adequate training so some of what they broadcast may not have been researched and reported using proper journalistic methods.

Freedom House considers Somalia as one of the most dangerous places to be a journalist and a country with no freedom of press. In 2011 Freedom House issued a report entitled Worst of the Worst: The World’s Most Repressive Societies, to complement its annual survey on the state of global political rights and civil liberties. They included nine countries designated as the Worst of the Worst, Somalia being one of them. On the other hand, in the same report Somaliland is considered as partially free.  

According to the 2107 National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), journalists face, “endless violations” and impunity. In 2017, 5 journalists were killed in Somalia, 3 of them were killed in explosions in Mogadishu. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 64 journalists have been killed in Somalia since 1992. More than half of those, 44 altogether, were murdered, with al-Shabaab suspected of being responsible. But, in Somalia journalists face threats from all corners.  

Finally, one important factor is that the private sector is the prime player in the country’s media landscape. This is what has distinguished Somali media since 1991: The significant role of the private media-sector, driven especially by members of the large Somali diaspora in Europe, the Middle East and North America.