In Somalia, broadcasters warned to censor their coverage

New York, February 20, 2007— Somalia’s UN-backed transitional government on Monday said they would censor three private broadcasters over their coverage of deadly unrest in the capital Mogadishu, according to news reports and local journalists.

At least 12 people died and thousands fled the city on Monday after fierce artillery exchanges between Ethiopian-backed government troops and unknown fighters, according to international news reports. The fighting was the fiercest since the government took Mogadishu from Islamists last December.

The transitional government’s National Security Agency (NSA) ordered the executives of HornAfrik and Shabelle media groups, the two biggest media houses in Mogadishu, and Radio Banadir to stop reporting on government military operations and the flight of civilians from the capital, according to news reports and local journalists.

“We were invited and warned to avoid certain news,” Radio Banadir Director Ahmed Nur Ali told CPJ. The NSA will provide a written “code of conduct” in the coming days, he said.

While officials announced they would send censors to the stations to edit their news, none of the restrictions had been implemented late today, according to local journalists.

“We condemn the government’s attempt to censor the three broadcasts,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “We call on the government to refrain from censorship.”

NSA officials accused the stations of “exaggerating anti-security propaganda” and airing anti-government voices through call-in shows, according to local journalists.

HornAfrik Managing Partner Ahmed Abdi Salam denied the accusations, saying that journalists had a duty to factually report the news. The government was urged to make its spokesperson available to the press to respond to the stations’ reports, he said. HornAfrik, established in 1999, was the country’s first independent broadcaster.

Last month, HornAfrik, Shabelle, Qatar-based Al-Jazeera television, and private Radio IQK (Holy Quran Radio) were shuttered for 24 hours without explanation by decree from the head of the NSA.