Call it what you may, responsible or not so responsible, objective or not so objective, accurate or not so accurate, sensational or hardcore truth, the undeniable fact in Somaliland today is that there is a vibrant and vigorous journalism, one of the positive windfalls of the collapse of the former Somali dictatorial regime.
Somaliland has won its freedom through a long, painful and torturous road and freedom of expression is one of the most valued and most cherished fruits of such hard labor. From the first conference of reconciliation held in Buroa in 1991 through the turbulent years that followed and up to our present rough road to democracy, the press has always been there to witness, record, evaluate, interpret, censure, expose, inspire, entertain, agitate and articulate our issues.
Like any burgeoning press in any young democracy, our press has its glitches, its setbacks, its mistakes and mess ups, its moods and motivations which may sometimes look a little outstretched or out of step with traditional standards of journalism based on objectivity, accuracy, fair consideration of rival views and counter-evidence and abiding by journalistic ethics, though no two journalists would ever be able to see eye-to-eye as what is to be considered as ethical and not ethical.
Many critics accuse Somaliland journalism of being slanderous, rumor-pedaling, seditious, divisive and saturated with clannish sentiments which they claim has turned it into a battleground for settling scores and exchanging personal vendettas. Well, one may ask, don’t all these ills exist in the society and what are journalists supposed to do, bury their heads in the sand like ostrich and pretend that they didn’t see? Journalists don’t invent stories, they only report what they see, know or have been told by their various sources. Also in the absence of interest groups, pressure groups and corporate culture, isn’t it rather unfair to expect the journalists to behave like angels when everyone else sings to the tune of the clan.
Another important thing to note is that Somaliland journalism is not a categorized journalism. We don’t have political journals, entertainment and sports magazines, commercial bulletins, gossip and scandal tabloids and journals on other specialized and professional fields. The existing few dailies and weeklies have to struggle to cramp all these issues into their limited pages and under difficult circumstances. They strive to satisfy the information needs of all the sectors of the society both locally and abroad with their meager resources and one has to admit that until now they have done it with great vigor and admirable dedication.
It is natural that in a country that doesn’t own the exact ingredients for tantalizing social news such celebrity scandals that our few papers have to focus on the only people that are news worthy- the politicians. In a country where there are no Michael Jacksons, no Madonnas, no David Beckhams, no scandal-ridden wealth-saddled Hollywood stars, no Monica Lewinskys, O.J. Simpsons or even terrorist bombers, the press should obviously and rightly focus on issues that relate directly to the people’s daily life. And who is more than politicians touch the daily life of the Somaliland citizen. They are our celebrities, sources of corruption and scandal, generators of good news and bad news and should bear the brunt of bad press, scathing commentaries and angry op-eds. Our free press is the only good thing we have gained since we have restored our sovereignty, to lose it is to lose the essence of our existence and to return the darkness of the tyrannical era.
We tell our Legislature as they debate the press bill which they seem so adamant to pass; no matter what you do, Somaliland presses will not be intimidated into glossing over your follies, your corruption and your scandals. It will be there at your doorstep watching every move you make as long as you hold a public position.
We say it loud so that the Parliament can hear: Drop the press bill. Freedom of expression is here to stay.