September 23, 2013 - Updated on January 20, 2016

Puntland official closes TV station for failure to broadcast unavailable video

Reporters Without Borders condemns the closure of London-based Universal TV’s local operations by the authorities in the autonomous northeastern region of Puntland on the pretext that it failed to broadcast an address that Puntland’s president, Abdirahmane Mohamud Farole, gave at a European Union conference on Somalia in Brussels on 16 September. According to the information obtained by Reporters Without Borders, no video of the address is available. The media were not present when it was delivered, and no video was ever posted on the EU website. Universal TV’s local operations were shut down on the orders of Puntland’s minister of information, communications, culture and heritage, Ahmed Sheikh Jama Yusuf, on 21 September. “This arbitrary closure order would be laughable if it were not for the fact that it deals yet another blow to freedom of information in Somalia,” Reporters Without Borders said. “It is utterly absurd to close down a news outlet for not broadcasting a report to which it did not have access. “At the very moment that the Somali Islamist militia group Al-Shabaab is spreading terror in Kenya, the Somali authorities should have other priorities than threatening journalists and hounding them on spurious grounds. We urge Puntland’s information minister to respect media freedom and to immediately rescind his order so that Universal TV can reopen.” In a letter to Universal TV accusing it of “transgressions,” “hostility” towards Puntland and violations of the “ethical values of journalism,” the minister ordered its closure for an undetermined period starting at 8 a.m. on 21 September and threatened its journalists with physical retaliation if they did not comply. “The population of Puntland will know how to deal with Universal TV’s journalists wherever they are,” the minister’s letter said, using a tone that was anything but ministerial. The head of Universal TV in London, Ahmed Abubakar, said he thought the closure was politically motivated. The station intends to broadcast interviews this evening with two politicians who plan to run against Puntland’s president in elections due to take place in January. Universal TV is one of the most popular TV stations in Puntland and other parts of Somalia. The situation of journalists in Puntland is very worrying, with at least three arrested on the information minister’s orders in the past month. The police held Channel Four reporter Jamal Osman and his cameraman, and the Somali reporter Nuh Muse Birjeb for three hours on 30 August after they refused to interview the information minister for a report about piracy. Somalia is ranked 175th out of 179 countries in the 2013 Reporters Without Borders press freedom index. This latest affair will not improve the country’s image. Photo: President of Puntland region, Abdurahman Mohamed Farole (Tony Karumba / AFP)