The current unrest in Somalia’s capital Mogadishu, including an attack this week on the Somali Presidential Palace, has prompted the Transitional Government (TGF) to restrict three radio stations from reporting on government operations and security issues around the city and its environs. The government imposed the ban Monday on radio stations Shabelle, Banadir, and Voice of America affiliate Horn Afrik, which carries many of our VOA programs. Horn Afrik Program Manager Ahmed Abdi Salam says that Somalia’s National Security Agency contacted station representatives and charged that their broadcasts overstated the gravity of the security situation in Mogadishu.
“The deputy of national security called up several radio stations, including ours, and advised us that they were not pleased with our reporting of displaced people running away from Mogadishu and from the problems the bombs and the shells were bringing to the people. They basically were complaining about our reporting of the actual incidents that were taking place in the city. And what they actually were suggesting was that we shouldn’t be supporting those shootings in the interests of what they call peace,” he said.
In reply, Abdi Salam said, he raised several questions with national security authorities about the journalist community’s responsibility to cover events honestly and truthfully in ways that serve the public interest.
“We actually had two questions for them. One was: if these incidents are actually happening, how can we not report, and why won’t the government provide an explanation? Another more fundamental question was: why is the Ministry of Information not talking to us? Why is the National Security Agency discussing these information issues with us?” asked Abdi Salam.
The Horn Afrik executive says there were no written instructions from security officials regarding the latest media restrictions. He also says he finds fault with the government for putting the media outlets in the middle of a controversy between authorities and local civic groups.
“While the government may feel that we are reporting the facts on the ground in such a way that they don’t like it, the civil society, on the other hand, is accusing the media that we are under-reporting the actual incidents in Mogadishu. And so, we are in the middle of two forces – one demanding more information, and one trying to restrict all of those issues,” he said.
Abdi Salam acknowledges that even within the transitional government, there are differences of opinion about the latitude and depth of how the media should operate. He also maintains that the new Somali language broadcasts begun this month by the Voice of America’s Horn of Africa Service in no way sparked the Mogadishu government’s reaction that brought about this week’s latest media restrictions.
“In some ways, it enhances our coverage of the issues and it also gives us some kind of a shelter because this is something that the entire media, including the Somali-speaking media, including the VOA and the BBC, are all discussing. So even if the government were trying to restrict our words here, they will not silence the free media in the world. I do not think that the government is particularly worried about the VOA. I think one thing that they were not quite pleased with is the talk shows and the call-in programs where people are actually presenting their own ideas and views and stories about the real situation,” said Abdi Salam.