SOMALILAND FORUM SUBMISSIONS ON THE
Third Submission: 09/02/2004
The Somaliland Forum has submitted today further comments on the Press Law passed by the Somaliland House of Representatives on 18 January 2004 and urges that the operation of the Law be reviewed in three years time.
The Forum, which has declared its detailed objections to the Press Bill on three occasions over the last few years, congratulates the Speaker and the members of the Parliament for taking note of the submissions made by the representatives of the Somaliland Press. The final Law was considerably different from the previous versions, and has been cautiously welcomed by Press.
In its further detailed comments on the Law, the Somaliland Forum expresses its hope that the Law will lay the foundations for self regulation of the Press through their code of conduct, which is now an integral part of the Law and welcomes that the criminal sanctions which formed a key feature of the Bill have all be removed.
· feels that the reach of the law is still too wide as it aims to cover not only the print and broadcast media, but also films, video, books etc. and recommends to the revising parliamentary chamber, the House of Elders, to consider confining the law to the print and broadcasting media;
· believes that the proposed licensing system for the media is still unacceptable when applied to the print media, and recommends that the system be looked at again very soon;
· urges that the various criminal sanctions (such as criminal defamation) in the Penal Code that affect the press be reviewed and either repealed or be dealt with under the civil law; and above all,
· a Broadcasting Law, setting up an independent licensing system for private and public radios and television be drafted and passed urgently.
Somaliland Forum is an independent organisation that brings together the
If you have any comments, questions or suggestions to make, the SL Forum Executive Committee will be eager to hear them.
Chairman: Kaltuun Faarah firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice-Chair: Axmed Jaamac email@example.com
Secretary: Rashiid Webi firstname.lastname@example.org
Treasurer: Adan Hirsi email@example.com
Member at large: Sayid Mohamed Yusuf firstname.lastname@example.org
COMMENTS ON THE
2. Whilst our position still remains that the best way of protecting the free press, and in particular, the print media, is through robust codes of practice and self regulation overseen through independent press and broadcasting councils, we welcome the considerable changes that have been made to the previously published Bill, and we applaud Parliament’s consultation with the representatives of the Somaliland Press. Many of us feared that the Bill, as drafted previously, would be pushed through Parliament, and it is a credit to the Speaker and the members that they have taken heed of the strong representations made to them.
3. We understand that the representatives of the Somaliland Press have cautiously welcomed the final version of the Law, and, despite our misgivings, we hope and pray that the law will be interpreted in a way which will continue to strengthen our free press. We recommend, however, that the Legislation Sub-Committee of the House keeps an eye on the operation of the Law and, together with representatives of the press, reviews its provisions within 3 years.
4. We welcome very much the fact that any infringements of the responsibilities of the press listed in Article 10 of the Law will now be dealt with in accordance with the voluntary press code of conduct annexed to the Law (under clause 10(6)) and in line with the relevant civil law provisions. As this clause (10(6)) specifically refers to infringements of Article 10 only, we assume that the other provisions of the law, and in particular, Part V (Articles 13 to 26) which set out numerous standards for the conduct of the Press carry no sanctions, and form, in effect part of the code of conduct of the Press. We note that under Article 27, responsibility for compliance with these provisions lies correctly with the editors, and we are pleased that this, together with the annexed code of conduct, lays firm foundations for the self-regulation of the Press.
5. We are still seriously concerned about fact that this Law still defines the Press as “the creation of any work which affects the thoughts and opinions of the public at large, such as: newspapers, journals, periodicals, news agencies, radio, television, film and video, pictures, cartoons, books, music and any other means of mass communication”. We have noted that the 1979 version of this Bill also mentioned even plays and the internet, which have since been deleted (although the latter can still be said to be a form of mass communication), but we still believe that this definition is far too wide, and there is no need to bring within the purview of this law, films, video, pictures, books and music, which have not been disseminated by the print or broadcasting media. We therefore urge the House of Elders to amend Article 2 of the Law so as to confine the reach of this law to print and broadcasting media only.
6. As the Bill has now been passed by the Representatives, we mention below the areas where we believe the House of Elders, as the reviewing chamber, ought to look at:
6.1 Journalists, like all other citizens, are entitled to freedom of association under Article 23(3) of the Constitution, and it should be made clearer in Article 3(d) that they may, if they so wish, form an an umbrella organisation.
6.2 Although we have no objection to a licensing system for the broadcasting
media, we are still concerned about its application to the print media. For
example, the Commonwealth Statement on Freedom of Expression makes it very
clear that “the licensing of newspapers,
journals and magazines by the state is unacceptable”. Nonetheless, we believe that, in order to
lessen any abuse, Article 6 and Article 7(g), which confirm that no press
activities can be undertaken without registration be amended to include a
clause to the effect that the Attorney General, as the registrar, is obliged by
law to register any press within a maximum period of, say 30 days, of the
receipt of the application for registration and the required details set out in
Article 7, and that the registration shall be deemed to be granted if he fails
to confirm it within the time limit. (Indeed, we have
borrowed this positive legal obligation from the Ethiopian 1992 Press Law –
Article 7(2)). Although under the
6.3 Article 10(7) sets out the obligation of the Press to pay a licence fee. As currently drafted, this fee is not linked to the registration process set out in Articles 6 & 7, and we therefore assume that its non-payment will not affect the registration of the press concerned, but will be enforced in the same way as any other debts (see the preceding clause – 10(6) - which confirms that any infringements of Article 10 will be dealt with in line with the code and the civil law). This needs to be clarified and we would urge that licence fees for the print media be kept low, and should not become an unjustifiable restriction on the freedom of expression.
6.4 We are surprised that two new clauses relating to military secrets (clauses 3 & 4 of Article 10) have appeared, for the first time, in the final Bill. Whilst we understand that the recent tensions in East Somaliland may have highlighted this issue, we caution against any hurried legislation, and we point out that there are sufficient provisions in the Penal Code to cover such issues (see Articles 199 to 205 relating to military and state secrets), to which journalists, like any other persons, are subject.
7. Overall, we welcome very warmly the fact all the proposed criminal sanctions against the Press in the previous versions of the Bill have been removed. We have previously advocated that the considerable array of provisions in the Penal Code, which have a chilling factor on the freedom of the Press, be revised urgently. Although Article 31 of the Press law makes void any other previous law which is inconsistent with it, it remains to be seen how far this Law’s reassertion of the freedom of press and the fact that no repression or censorship of the press (as emphasised in Article 3) can be relied upon by journalists as a defence to some of the offences in the Penal Code. For example, the Press Law makes it clear in Article 10(7) that the licensing issue will be dealt with under the civil law (see above), but Article 516 of the Penal Code makes it a criminal offence for anyone to distribute papers without prior authorisation required by law. The Penal Code, of course, applies to both the Press and the public at large, and, in our view, it is preferable that a thorough review of the provisions of the Penal Code be made urgently so as to minimise undue restrictions of the freedom of the press. We would, for example, as the list is not exhaustive, advocate the following articles, which are relevant to the freedom of expression, be either repealed or turned into civil wrongs:
· Article 451: Insult – offending the honour and dignity of the person in his presence or by writing or drawing communicated to him.
· Article 269: Insult to a political, administrative or judicial body or its representatives in their presence or by writing or drawing communicated to them.
· Article 452: Defamation – injuring the reputation of another (where the punishment is doubled if committed by the press), subject to a defence of proof of truth.
· Article 328: Publication or circulation of false, exaggerated or tendentious news capable of disturbing public order.
Article 220: Offending
the honour or prestige of the Head of State, which, by the way, does not extend
to the Head of Government – a situation that no longer applies to
8. We also urge the
9. Finally, we welcome the positive duty on the Government under Article 30(1) of the Press Law to encourage the development of press and to extend to it any possible assistance, and we hope that the Government will now come up with a programme of action to fulfil this duty.
9 February 2004