UNPOS Interviews the Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)
Mohammed Ibrahim has been dodging bullets for a living for over 18 years while working as a journalist in Somalia.
The Somali journalists work earned him an International investigative reporting Fellowship at the US television network ABC, in collaboration with the Long Island University in New York and the George Polk Journalism Award in 2012. He has also been a regular contributor to the New York Times since 2006 and has worked for the Pan African News Agency (PANAPRESS) and the Canadian National Post.
Today, in his role as Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), Mohammed Ibrahim continues to push for press freedom in Somalia, despite constant threats against his life.
1) How would you describe the situation for journalists in Somalia at the moment?
Journalists in Somalia are working in a deadly profession facing threats, intimidation, arbitrary arrests and killings. This makes Somalia the worst and most dangerous place to be a journalist in Africa with 18 journalists killed this year alone. But over time, journalists in Somalia have weathered the storm of violence and have incessantly kept the world informed about the situation on a day-to-day basis. Since last year, Mogadishu has gained relative peace, the city is being reconstructed and people are opening new businesses. Journalists have started returning to Mogadishu to reshape their life through their profession. But the truth is that it is still unsafe for media workers and several journalists have reportedly fled from the city recently, having become prime targets for the warring sides in Somalia. They (armed groups) don't like the truth to be uncovered, public plights to be revealed and human atrocities to be reported on. Several journalists who returned to Mogadishu recently, having lived in exile for years, were killed and wounded in a recent suicide bombing at a restaurant in the Hooyooyinka area. Abdisatar Dahir Sabriye of Somali National Television died in the bombing having returned from Nairobi with high dreams of serving the public and living a peaceful life. Abdikarim Gutale who worked for S24 TV, was wounded in the same bombing. I have also been attacked by armed gangs. In May 2009, while returning from Harardhere, an area known as the pirates' stronghold, where I was covering a story about pirates taking hostages, armed men opened fire on our car. Bullets pierced a hole in the car tyre but our guards responded immediately and we were lucky to get away unharmed. In 2007, I, along with the Associated Press Photographer, Mohamed Sheik Nor and a couple of other journalists were attacked by armed militias between Jowhar and Mahadaay and they took our mobile phones, money and cameras. The brave journalists left behind in places such as Mogadishu take high risks on a daily basis just to inform, entertain and educate the public. I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the Doha Center for Media Freedom, which has assisted Somali journalists in distress by providing urgent Medical assistance. The National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ) has spread the word that "No news is worth a life". This means that every media station must provide safety and security for their employees as a priority. The union has also lobbied media houses to adopt editorial policy placing safety first. Therefore, at the moment the situation for the Somali journalists is fearful.
2) What do Somali journalists need most right now?
Journalists need protection first and foremost. As a Union, we acknowledge that the government is unable to provide security to each journalist, but the real protection for journalists is 'justice' and bringing the killers of media to trial. So far, no one has been brought to court in connection with violent murders against journalists. This protection would also stop the 'brain drain' of Journalists who flee in search of safe land. This can only be achieved if the government establishes an investigative unit, which investigates attacks against the press together with AMISOM support. We have recently launched a campaign to bring the murderers to trial and have some justice for those media professionals who have laid down their lives in the name of journalism. Secondly, they need training to upgrade their journalistic and ethical standards. NUSOJ currently does not have the financial capability to assist with this and I would appeal for assistance with this. In the past we have held several workshops and campaigns with funding from local initiatives and we would like to do more.
3) How does Somalia's media law protect journalists?
Somalia's Media law was drafted in 2007 by a group of media professionals, the law society, civil society including NUSOJ, but has not been put into practice since then and we are constantly pushing for the law to be embraced.
4) What changes need to be made to the media law?
There are oppressive articles, which need to be changed. The oppressive articles among other things include heavy fines on journalists accused of violating the law, which might possibly force the journalist to quit the profession or media station accused of defamation with similar fines as well. Media licensing and unequal rights for the Somali journalists working for local radio stations and the international media outlets need to be addressed. It is important to note the media law needs wider consultation from the media industry in Somalia and should include their input.
5) Is the media landscape changing in Somalia following the appointment of the new President?
The media landscape has been dramatically changing for the last couple of months and has been growing from 12 radio stations to more than 30 radio stations in Mogadishu alone. This has been encouraged by the relative peace in Mogadishu. There are more than 60 media houses in South Central Somalia and Puntland with over 600 journalists employed.
6) Are Somali journalists using digital media - if so how significant is it in their reporting?
Somali Journalists primarily use digital media, for instance there are at least a thousand Somali news websites which helps disseminate news faster not only inside Somalia but also to the diaspora. In addition to the news websites the use of social media, such as Twitter and Facebook, have been on the increase, making it easy to spread news easily in minutes globally.
7) What is your message on behalf of Somali journalists to the new President and soon to be formed government?
On behalf of the Somali journalists and Somali media fraternity at large, I ask for the new government to give the first priority to the protection and safety of media professionals in Somalia and end the impunity given to perpetrators. Guarantee the freedom of the press and information so that it is protected under Somali law and support Somali journalists in upgrading their professional standards.