Somali Journalists Confront Challenges of Security, Impunity and Standards

A Somali national journalists' conference launched in Nairobi, Kenya, today (Friday) focused on the threats posed by the high rate of killing of journalists, kidnappings, torture and intimidation of media professionals, and heard calls for an end to the culture of impunity that has been the scourge of media activity in Somalia since 1991.

Also on the agenda of the meeting is the challenge of setting professional standards for media in one of the world's most dangerous hotspots for journalists.

The three-day conference (24- 26 July 2009), held under the theme: Professional Journalism: Responsibility in a Situation of Violence and Insecurity, and organized by the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) aims to prepare a comprehensive action plan for ethical journalism and a call for fresh solidarity in the region with Somali journalists.

The meeting has the support of the International Federation of Journalists and the Norwegian Foreign ministry, and brings together journalists from all the regions in Somalia. The opening was attended by Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka, Vice President of Kenya, and government functionaries, IFJ officials, media freedom organizations, representatives of United Nations and foreign missions for Somalia.

The conference has tackled issues of insecurity of journalists in Somalia, the doctrine of independence, the role of Somali journalists in inflaming or easing the violence and conflict, imbalance and censorship, support and solidarity for ethical media, combating impunity, decent working conditions as foundation for quality journalism and solidarity, professional ethics and media regulation. The conference has intended to come up with a framework for professional ethics.

The vice president urged Somali journalists to fight for peace, democracy and stability in their country by always reporting the truth. He said: "The international community cannot afford to give up on Somalia. A restive Somalia is an attractive haven for terrorism, and ultimately a threat to international peace." Musyoka said there was a need for all parties to the conflict to give dialogue and reconciliation a chance and that journalists from Somalia have a key role to play in that work.

This year alone, since January 2009, six journalists have been killed in targeted and pre-meditated attacks aimed intimidating the entire media community in Somalia.

International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) Secretary-General, Aidan White, said Somali journalists must strive for professionalism and ethics. But, he said, it is also the responsibility of government and the Somali community to ensure that the journalists work and exist in decent conditions. "Indecent and unfavorable working conditions expose journalists to manipulation and abuse by the political class for propaganda purposes."

"In IFJ we preach two values; decency and respect. Decency in terms of working conditions, safety and security, and respect for press freedom and independent, responsible journalism," White said. He praised NUSOJ for organizing the conference.

Somali Minister of Information Farhan Ali Mohamoud, representing Somali government, has expressed commitment to "advocate for freedom of speech, expression, freedom of opinion and free and virile media to stimulate debate on national, regional and world issues and to empower our citizens to participate meaningfully in nation building. For only informed citizens can make informed decisions".

The Central Organization of Trade Unions-Kenya (COTU) secretary-General, Francis Atwoli, bemoaned the perilous conditions in which journalists work, saying it was time the world community intervened directly to end the lawlessness and impunity in Somalia. He said COTU was ready to help NUSOJ set up an office in Nairobi to enable it run its affairs without fear or intimidation.

Appealing for support and solidarity from the world community to tackle the problem of insecurity of journalists in Somalia and that of impunity, Omar Faruk Osman, NUSOJ Secretary-General, said media professionals in his country have become targets of those who hate the truth. The situation has deteriorated "from rule of law to the rule of guns".

Backing from the European Union was also given to Somali journalists. "This conference will come up with recommendations on how to entrench responsibility in the Somali media. The European Union (EU)  would be proud to associate with a process that will eventually bring help the Somali people and the Somali media find peace, stability, democracy and development," said Joran Bjallerstedt, the Swedish ambassador to Somalia who represents the EU presidency for Somalia.

For more information contact the IFJ at +32 2 235 2207
 The IFJ represents over 600,000 journalists in 123 countries worldwide