SOMALILAND FORUM - PRESS RELEASE
AN APPEAL TO THE HONOURABLE
MEMBERS OF THE SOMALILAND HOUSE OF
REPRESENTATIVES NOT TO PASS THE PRESS BILL
SOMALILAND FORUM PRESS
House has been discussing recently again the Press Bill, which has been
submitted to the House on various occasions since 1997. We understand that the
Bill will now be put to a vote on Saturday this week or shortly afterwards.
have expressed our opposition to Bill twice in the last few years, and we have
given detailed reasons for our objections last year in July 2003. No meaningful
changes have been made to the Bill, and there are even reports that the 1997
version may be re-submitted for the final vote.
strongly urge ALL members of the House to reject this defective Bill.We reiterate that this Bill is not right for our young
urge that such an important Bill affecting a fundamental right must not be
passed by a small minority of the House.
are not convinced that there is a pressing case for pushing through this
controversial Bill and we ask that more thought be given to drafting
regulations that are in line with internationally accepted norms.
ask the Government and Parliament that the emphasis should be on ways of
allowing and encouraging our young media to mature in a democracy where rights
and duties are equally valued.
please, when and if a motion to vote on the Bill, as it stands, is proposed, we
urge you to vote NO.
further information, we attach our detailed objections to the Bill .
Forum is an independent organisation that brings
together the Somaliland Diaspora. We believe in a sovereign, prosperous and
independent Somaliland. Working together with
Somaliland Communities and, Somaliland friends around the globe, we believe
that we can contribute to the betterment and development of the Republic of Somaliland. It is said that a nation's
greatest asset is its human resources. Hence, the importance
of the contributions of the Somaliland Diaspora."
you have any comments, questions or suggestions to make, SLForum
Executive Committee will be eager to hear them.
Kaltuun Farah firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice-Chair: Ahmed Jama email@example.com
Secretary: Rashiid Webi firstname.lastname@example.org
Treasurer: Adan Hirsi email@example.com
Member at large: Sayid Mohamed Yusuf
understand that the House of Representatives is currently considering the
Somaliland Media Bill. In view of the importance of this law to the
fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Somaliland Constitution, we felt it
necessary that we should make our position known to the Parliament, the
Government and the public.
Somaliland Forum is not a political association and o ur
only interest in this matter is the strengthening of our new democracy. A
free, independent and healthy media is essential to this process and we
are saddened to see that a Bill which has already been rejected twice
before by the House of Representatives is now being seriously considered
when, according to our information, it has not undergone any meaningful
changes. This Bill is based on the 1992 Ethiopian Press Law which has been
subject of considerable criticism in that country and was described as one
of the harshest press laws in the world. We should not repeat the mistakes
whilst we are aware of the shortcomings of our young media, and can see
some merit in the issues relating to freedom of information, right of
reply and the raising of ethical standards, we believe that this law is
the not the right vehicle for these issues. We are convinced that this
proposed law is likely to demolish the new and promising shoots of our
independent press. It is, in our view, contrary to Article 32 of our
Constitution (freedom of expression) and goes counter to accepted
international norms. We, therefore urge the members of the House of Representative
to reject this Bill.
2 of the Bill states that the Bill does not just concern the Press in the
sense of print journalism (such as newspapers, journals, periodicals), but
it also applies to news agencies, radio, television, film, videos,
pictures, cartoons, books, music and all mass communication. We believe
that this is too wide and if any regulation is needed in these areas,
there should be separate laws. In particular , we
need urgently a democratic Broadcasting Law that will free up radio and
television and make government owned radio truly public and independent of
the government. We do not need to add to the considerable restrictions on
the freedom of expression that currently exist.
3 of the Bill correctly points out that the Press deserves respect and
asserts that it should not be oppressed. Unfortunately the remaining
provisions of the Bill proceed to do the opposite. Although there are many
criminal sanctions against the Press in the Bill, none is aimed at
punishing anyone who may oppress the press or infringe journalists'
freedom or liberty.
4 attempts to list the purposes of the press. We do not think it necessary
to do this in a law, because such a list cannot be exhaustive. The press
fulfils many functions in a democracy and such a list pre-supposes that if
the press does anything not included in this list, it will be held to
6 introduces a strict registration system run by the State [The Attorney
General and the Minister of Information) and all the existing press must
register within 90 days of this Law coming into force. This has to be
renewed yearly and there are criminal sanctions for non-compliance. Worse,
no press activity can take place without this registration (Article 7(g)).
The decision whether to register or not is left to these officials. Whilst
some form of registration (through an independent body) may be acceptable
in international law, this kind of strict control by government officials
is tantamount to prior restraint of the press, and has been held to be an
unlawful limitation of the freedom of expression.
the Attorney General shall be given power under Article 15 to close down
any media outlet if he thinks that it is ready to disseminate any
"illegal" information which can cause serious damage. Although
the matter has to be taken to the Supreme Court (or the Court of Appeal,
according to the latest House amendment) within 24 hours, this kind of
power given to a Government Officer is unacceptable. There are numerous
matters in this Bill and in the Somaliland Penal Code which create
criminal offences of varying levels of seriousness, and this law leaves it
entirely to the discretion of the Attorney General as to what offences he
considers merit the exercise of this draconian pre-emptive power to ban
Articles in the Bill which relate to the powers of the press to obtain
information are not controversial, and we welcome the duty imposed on
government officials (under Article 19) to co-operate with the press. We
would, however, welcome a more detailed freedom of information code of
practice or regulations which would ensure open and better access to
Government departments at both central and local level.
8(5) bans the press from disseminating anything which may be contrary to
religion and Islamic Sharia, and, according to a
recent amendment, any information "which has been contrived or is
partisan". We can understand the concern about issues which are
clearly against Islamic principles, but these provisions are not clear-cut
and are liable to be misinterpreted. We u nderstand
the need for objectivity in reporting, but who is to decide whether any
information is contrived, and what is wrong with some information,
specially in editorials and opinions, being partisan?
far as disclosure of sources of information is concerned, we accept that
this should only be done by a court of law, but we are concerned about the
proposal that this can be done in cases where alleged criminal acts have
been committed "against government or an individual" (Article
8(6)). Furthermore the provision which allows "a legal body" and
not a court to ask a publisher who is subject of legal proceedings
(including, presumab ly
civil proceedings) to disclose the source of his information is an
unacceptable exception to the right of the press to protect its sources.
10 puts another obligation on the press to be free from any content which
can be seen as amounting to a crime against the peace and public order; or
an insult or falsehoods against a person, a community, a district, a
region or an institution; or matters which would create conflict between
communities, districts etc.; or anything to the detriment of the good
relations with other countries, and in particular, our neighbours.
There are already criminal laws in the Penal Code which deal with a
considerable number of crimes, and we do not think that these additional
criminal offences are necessary. Indeed, we would recommend that the Penal
Code should be revised so that the numerous crimes which impinge on the
freedom of the press are repealed... The concepts of human rights have
developed considerably since the Penal Code which was rooted on the
Italian 1930s Penal Code was drafted in the early 1960s. For example Articles
451 to 453 of the Penal Code deal with insult, slander and defamation, and
other Articles relate to crimes against the state and public officials,
which are too many to list, and include even an article (Article 268)
which makes illegal insults to a public officer. It is now well accepted
internationally that civil laws of defamation should be used in respect of
the transgressions of the media and not the criminal law which involves
heavy fines and imprisonment.
believe that the long list of issues setting our journalistic ethics in
Article 13 is better dealt with in voluntary codes, and not in a law which
sets out sanctions for their infringement. Somaliland
has now professional press associations and they can deal with these
matters themselves. That is the best way of raising standards.
are appalled to see that an amendment to Article 17 proposes to give power
to a new censorship committee (consisting of officials of the Ministries
of Information, Foreign Affairs, and Religion and the Attorney General's
office) to approve or reject the importation of the foreign press
products. This was done in the dark Somali dictatorship era and has no
place in a democracy. This amendment was not included in the original Bill
and neither does it appear in the Ethiop Ethiopian 1992 Press Law.
International law dealing with freedom of expression covers both the right
to seek and impart information as well as the right to receive information
- As we
have already mentioned, we are against the imposition of fines on the
press set out in Article 20. In any way, the scope of this Article is not
clear and can only lead to further restrictions of the freedom of the
press. We are also against the new amendment which introduces a further
personal sanction against individual journalists who may be banned from
working as journalists for periods ranging from 3 months to 6 months
draw your attention to the fact that Somaliland
adheres to the relevant international instruments which deal with freedom
of expression, foremost among which are Article 19 of the Universal
Declaration on Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant on
Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human
and Peoples' Rights. We stress that unwarranted controls of the press are
not only an infringement of the rights of journalists and the media, but
also are a limitation of the Somaliland people's right to receive and
impart information and ideas through the media
want to see parliament and the government furthering the freedom of the
press and we urge that this Bill be rejected forthwith and that efforts be
made to revise all the other laws, which impede the freedom of expression.
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