Journalists operate in a corrupt and violent environment. With more than 50 media workers killed since 2010, Somalia remains the most dangerous country for journalists in Africa.
The fall of General Siad Barre’s dictatorship in 1991 ended the state’s monopoly on the media in Somalia. Since then, the media sector has developed and diversified despite an extremely hostile and unstable environment. Radio remains the most popular news source. Access to TV news is a largely urban phenomenon. There are two state-owned TV channels and several privately owned channels, some of which were set up by the diaspora abroad and broadcast via satellite. Universal TV, based in London, is the best known. The print media are fading, and only two newspapers are still published in Mogadishu, the capital.
Somali journalists are often subjected to political pressure and bribery attempts. Many media outlets are directly owned by politicians, including members of Parliament, the executive branch, and even diplomats. Each of Somalia’s six states has its own media outlet, which is often regarded as the mouthpiece of the local authorities.
The legal framework is extremely repressive. Journalists are often brought before military courts, which are used to justify prolonged detention, or civilian courts that rely on a 1964 penal code or laws that date from the military dictatorship. A moratorium on the arrests of journalists, which the authorities promised in 2020, has still not been adopted.
In Somalia, one of the poorest countries in the world, corruption is widespread and does not spare journalists or media executives. State subsidies are opaque and channelled to media outlets that favour the government.
Clan culture plays an important role in the way news and information are handled. Journalists find it difficult to provide coverage that is objective and respects a diversity of opinions. Stories involving sexual orientation or gender are strictly taboo because of the influence of radical Islam. Al-Shabaab, the Islamist terrorist group linked to al-Qaeda, has its own media outlet, Radio Andalus, which broadcasts its propaganda.
Somali journalists face many dangers, ranging from harassment and arrest to sexual assault against female journalists and murder. Those who do not censor themselves are more likely to be targeted by al-Shabaab, the leading killer of journalists, or to be arrested and detained arbitrarily. The authorities in Somaliland and Puntland are especially repressive and exert enormous pressure on the local media. These abuses are carried out with complete impunity, despite some encouraging signs in recent years, including the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the killings of around 50 media professionals.