AN APPEAL TO THE HONOURABLE MEMBERS OF THE
The House has been discussing recently again the Press Bill, which has been submitted to the House on various occasions since 1997. We understand that the Bill will now be put to a vote on Saturday this week or shortly afterwards.
We have expressed our opposition to Bill twice in the last few years, and we have given detailed reasons for our objections last year in July 2003. No meaningful changes have been made to the Bill, and there are even reports that the 1997 version may be re-submitted for the final vote.
We strongly urge ALL members of the House to reject this defective Bill.We reiterate that this Bill is not right for our young democracy.
We urge that such an important Bill affecting a fundamental right must not be passed by a small minority of the House.
We are not convinced that there is a pressing case for pushing through this controversial Bill and we ask that more thought be given to drafting regulations that are in line with internationally accepted norms.
We ask the Government and Parliament that the emphasis should be on ways of allowing and encouraging our young media to mature in a democracy where rights and duties are equally valued.
So, please, when and if a motion to vote on the Bill, as it stands, is proposed, we urge you to vote NO.
For further information, we attach our detailed objections to the Bill .
"Somaliland Forum is an independent organisation that brings together the Somaliland Diaspora. We believe in a sovereign, prosperous and independent
Should you have any comments, questions or suggestions to make, SLForum Executive Committee will be eager to hear them.
Chairperson: Kaltuun Farah firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice-Chair: Ahmed Jama email@example.com
Secretary: Rashiid Webi firstname.lastname@example.org
Treasurer: Adan Hirsi email@example.com
Member at large: Sayid Mohamed Yusuf firstname.lastname@example.org
- We understand that the House of Representatives is currently considering the Somaliland Media Bill. In view of the importance of this law to the fundamental freedoms guaranteed by the Somaliland Constitution, we felt it necessary that we should make our position known to the Parliament, the Government and the public.
- The Somaliland Forum is not a political association and o
only interest in this matter is the strengthening of our new democracy. A free, independent and healthy media is essential to this process and we are saddened to see that a Bill which has already been rejected twice before by the House of Representatives is now being seriously considered when, according to our information, it has not undergone any meaningful changes. This Bill is based on the 1992 Ethiopian Press Law which has been subject of considerable criticism in that country and was described as one of the harshest press laws in the world. We should not repeat the mistakes of others. ur
- Overall, whilst we are aware of the shortcomings of our young media, and can see some merit in the issues relating to freedom of information, right of reply and the raising of ethical standards, we believe that this law is the not the right vehicle for these issues. We are convinced that this proposed law is likely to demolish the new and promising shoots of our independent press. It is, in our view, contrary to Article 32 of our Constitution (freedom of expression) and goes counter to accepted international norms. We, therefore urge the members of the House of Representative to reject this Bill.
- Article 2 of the Bill states that the Bill does not just concern the Press in the sense of print journalism (such as newspapers, journals, periodicals), but it also applies to news agencies, radio, television, film, videos, pictures, cartoons, books, music and all mass communication. We believe that this is too wide and if any regulation is needed in these areas, there should be separate laws. In particular , we need urgently a democratic Broadcasting Law that will free up radio and television and make government owned radio truly public and independent of the government. We do not need to add to the considerable restrictions on the freedom of expression that currently exist.
- Article 3 of the Bill correctly points out that the Press deserves respect and asserts that it should not be oppressed. Unfortunately the remaining provisions of the Bill proceed to do the opposite. Although there are many criminal sanctions against the Press in the Bill, none is aimed at punishing anyone who may oppress the press or infringe journalists' freedom or liberty.
- Article 4 attempts to list the purposes of the press. We do not think it necessary to do this in a law, because such a list cannot be exhaustive. The press fulfils many functions in a democracy and such a list pre-supposes that if the press does anything not included in this list, it will be held to account.
- Article 6 introduces a strict registration system run by the State [The Attorney General and the Minister of Information) and all the existing press must register within 90 days of this Law coming into force. This has to be renewed yearly and there are criminal sanctions for non-compliance. Worse, no press activity can take place without this registration (Article 7(g)). The decision whether to register or not is left to these officials. Whilst some form of registration (through an independent body) may be acceptable in international law, this kind of strict control by government officials is tantamount to prior restraint of the press, and has been held to be an unlawful limitation of the freedom of expression.
- Furthermore, the Attorney General shall be given power under Article 15 to close down any media outlet if he thinks that it is ready to disseminate any "illegal" information which can cause serious damage. Although the matter has to be taken to the Supreme Court (or the Court of Appeal, according to the latest House amendment) within 24 hours, this kind of power given to a Government Officer is unacceptable. There are numerous matters in this Bill and in the Somaliland Penal Code which create criminal offences of varying levels of seriousness, and this law leaves it entirely to the discretion of the Attorney General as to what offences he considers merit the exercise of this draconian pre-emptive power to ban the press.
- The Articles in the Bill which relate to the powers of the press to obtain information are not controversial, and we welcome the duty imposed on government officials (under Article 19) to co-operate with the press. We would, however, welcome a more detailed freedom of information code of practice or regulations which would ensure open and better access to Government departments at both central and local level.
- Article 8(5) bans the press from disseminating anything which may be contrary to religion and Islamic Sharia, and, according to a recent amendment, any information "which has been contrived or is partisan". We can understand the concern about issues which are clearly against Islamic principles, but these provisions are not clear-cut and are liable to be misinterpreted. We u nderstand the need for objectivity in reporting, but who is to decide whether any information is contrived, and what is wrong with some information, specially in editorials and opinions, being partisan?
- So far as disclosure of sources of information is concerned, we accept that this should only be done by a court of law, but we are concerned about the proposal that this can be done in cases where alleged criminal acts have been committed "against government or an individual" (Article 8(6)). Furthermore the provision which allows "a legal body" and not a court to ask a publisher who is subject of legal proceedings (including, presumab ly civil proceedings) to disclose the source of his information is an unacceptable exception to the right of the press to protect its sources.
- Article 10 puts another obligation on the press to be free from any content which can be seen as amounting to a crime against the peace and public order; or an insult or falsehoods against a person, a community, a district, a region or an institution; or matters which would create conflict between communities, districts etc.; or anything to the detriment of the good relations with other countries, and in particular, our neighbours. There are already criminal laws in the Penal Code which deal with a considerable number of crimes, and we do not think that these additional criminal offences are necessary. Indeed, we would recommend that the Penal Code should be revised so that the numerous crimes which impinge on the freedom of the press are repealed... The concepts of human rights have developed considerably since the Penal Code which was rooted on the Italian 1930s Penal Code was drafted in the early 1960s. For example Articles 451 to 453 of the Penal Code deal with insult, slander and defamation, and other Articles relate to crimes against the state and public officials, which are too many to list, and include even an article (Article 268) which makes illegal insults to a public officer. It is now well accepted internationally that civil laws of defamation should be used in respect of the transgressions of the media and not the criminal law which involves heavy fines and imprisonment.
- We believe that the long list of issues setting our journalistic ethics in Article 13 is better dealt with in voluntary codes, and not in a law which sets out sanctions for their infringement.
Somalilandhas now professional press associations and they can deal with these matters themselves. That is the best way of raising standards.
- We are appalled to see that an amendment to Article 17 proposes to give power to a new censorship committee (consisting of officials of the Ministries of Information, Foreign Affairs, and Religion and the Attorney General's office) to approve or reject the importation of the foreign press products. This was done in the dark Somali dictatorship era and has no place in a democracy. This amendment was not included in the original Bill and neither does it appear in the Ethiop Ethiopian 1992 Press Law. International law dealing with freedom of expression covers both the right to seek and impart information as well as the right to receive information and ideas.
- As we have already mentioned, we are against the imposition of fines on the press set out in Article 20. In any way, the scope of this Article is not clear and can only lead to further restrictions of the freedom of the press. We are also against the new amendment which introduces a further personal sanction against individual journalists who may be banned from working as journalists for periods ranging from 3 months to 6 months (Article 20(6)).
- We draw your attention to the fact that
Somalilandadheres to the relevant international instruments which deal with freedom of expression, foremost among which are Article 19 of the Universal Declaration on Human Rights, Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and Article 9 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights. We stress that unwarranted controls of the press are not only an infringement of the rights of journalists and the media, but also are a limitation of the Somaliland people's right to receive and impart information and ideas through the media
- We want to see parliament and the government furthering the freedom of the press and we urge that this Bill be rejected forthwith and that efforts be made to revise all the other laws, which impede the freedom of expression.
- For more information about
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