The amendments by the Minister of Information Abdirahman Yarisow contained in the Media Act Amendment Bill 2017 have sought to address a number of concerns raised by media stakeholders key among them definition of a journalist and fines imposed on those who violate the Media Law.
However the Minister has shied away from addressing a key component of the Bill which is the pedestal to ensuring protection of media freedom and objective interrogation of media ethics in Somalia.
The composition of the Somali Media Council as contemplated in article 14 remains contentious. This is the core body which shall be responsible for actualizing this Act. Critical to its role will be the formulation of the Code of Conduct and adjudication of cases relating to violation of the Code and other aspects of this law.
Article 14 (2) stipulates the Minister of Information shall propose names of candidates for appointment to the Council to the Cabinet upon which they shall be appointed via a Presidential Decree following the Cabinet’s approval.
The Law is however silent on how the minister will arrive at the said names. The Council shall be composed of 9 members drawn from government media (3), private media (3) and civil society (3). Failure to address the procedure or rationale for appointing the Council members means the Minister has a blank cheque to select people he/she deems fit (own biases included) from these three sectors and submit for cabinet approval.
As Parliament debates the amends, it should take cognizance of this issue and provide clear directions on procedures and rationale. The independence of the Council as highlighted in Article 14 (3) can only be guaranteed by an objective selection process devoid of a unilateral decision by the Minister.