Media Act comes into force in Somalia as contentious articles retained

The Somali Media Law 2015 intended to regulate media practice in Somalia has come into force after President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud accented into Sunday.

President Mohamud noted in his memorandum that he had appended his signature on the law following the passing of the bill by parliament and called on the media industry and the public at large to obey the law.
The 42 article statute sets out a number of issues which provide a framework under which journalists and the media industry at large in Somalia will operate henceforth.

Media Commission
Notable in the bill is the establish of the Somali Media Commission, SMC which will be the oversight body in regulating the Forth Estate in Somalia. The Commission will among others enforce the Media Ethics as set out in Article 36. Key is penalties imposed against journalists and media houses for any breach. For example Article 5 slaps journalists a fine of between $500 and $3000 upon breach of the code of ethics.

Analysts and the media industry have raised the red flag regarding these fines noting that they are more punitive than corrective. In a country with a Gross Domestic Product, GDP of $600, a fine of such magnitude could be a death knell for any journalist and media enterprises.

Minister’s powers

The formation of the 9 member SMC is another area which has raised concerns among the media stakeholders. Article 14 gives the Minister of Information powers to appoint 3 members from the state media. Three others will be from the independent media while the civil society and other bodies such as the National Human Rights Commission, the National Women’s Organisation, the Solicitor General or the Somali Bar Association will be allotted the remaining three slots.

The minister also has the authority regarding the nomination and transmission of the list of appointed persons to the cabinet before the same is forwarded to the president for appointment. The minister has also been given powers to dissolve the Commission and call for emergency meetings overriding the authority of the Commission.

Defining a journalist
The definition of a journalist as contemplated by Article 35 of the act could perhaps cause ripples in the media sector in Somalia. The article stipulates that for one to be qualified as a journalist, one must possess a journalism or media studies degree in addition to sitting to a passing an exam by the NMC. This puts journalists at par with lawyers in many countries who are required to go through an industry standard training and examination before being admitted to the bar.
But the act is a also a positive development in media regulation in Somalia especially given the rampant cases of publication of allegedly defamatory content by media outlets. A regulatory framework in the country could serve to reign in on such abuse of media freedom in the country.

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