Journalists operate in a corrupt and violent environment. More than 50 media workers have been killed since 2010, making Somalia the most dangerous country for journalists in Africa.
The fall of dictator General Siad Barre in 1991 marked the end of a state monopoly on Somali media. Since then, the sector has developed and diversified despite an extremely hostile and unstable environment. Radio remains the most popular information source. Access to information on television is a largely urban phenomenon. There are two state-owned television networks and serveral private networks, some established abroad by exiles and broadcasting via satellite. Universal TV, based in London, is the best known. The written press is fading, and only two newspapers are still published in the capital of Mogadishu.
Somali journalists frequently face political pressure and corruption attempts. Many media are directly owned by political leaders, including members of parliament, the executive branch and diplomats. Each federated state has its own media, generally considered spokesmen for local authorities.
The legal framework is extremely repressive. Journalists are frequently forced to face military courts, which are used to justify prolonged detention, or civilian courts that rely on a 1964 penal code or laws that date from the military dictatorship. A moratorium on journalist arrests, which authorities promised in 2020, has still not been adopted.
In Somalia, one of the poorest countries in the world, corruption is widespread and does not spare journalists or media executives. State subsidies are opaque and channelled to media outlets that favour the government.
Clan culture plays an important role in the handling of information. Journalists find it difficult to take on issues objectively while respecting a diversity of opinions. Stories involving sexual orientation or gender are strictly taboo because of the influence of radical Islam. Al-Shabaab, the Islamist terrorist group linked to Al-Qaeda, has its own media outlet, Radio Andalus, which broadcasts the organisation’s propaganda.
Al-Shabaab attacks journalists who do not practice self-censorship. The terrorist group is the main killer of journalists. Reporters also run the risk of arrest and arbitrary detention – 34 in 2021 alone – as well as torture and media shut-downs. Officials in Somaliland and Puntland are especially repressive and exert enormous pressure on local media. Virtually all these abuses are carried out with complete impunity. However, there have been some encouraging signs in recent years, including the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the killings of approximately 50 media professionals.