Mogadishu— Somali journalists went on strike on Wednesday in protest against a new media bill.
The legislation is intended by the transitional government of President Abdulkassim Salat Hassan to reorganise and regulate the media.
The row between the Transitional National Government and the journalists began three days ago when the transitional parliament passed the bill imposing new restrictions on the press.
It will become law if it is signed by the president.
The Somali capital’s media was silent on Wednesday, with the exception of one local radio station that remained on air as the journalists went on strike.
There were no newspapers on sale in Mogadishu either.
The city normally has two television stations and seven local radio stations on air and more than 20 newspapers, six of which are usually published daily papers.
The new media bill was passed without MPs being given a copy of the document to study before debating or voting on the bill.
It has been an exercise aimed at jeopardizing journalism,
according to Abdulkadir Walayo, the head of the Mogadishu office for
the East Africa Media Institute.
Osman Abdulleh Gureh, one of best known artists in Mogadishu, is angered by the new law.
This means don’t talk, don’t hear and don’t
see, he said.
The controversial provisions of the new law prohibit the publication
of anything which is against what is called
interest, Islam, unity, the political system, security or the
social well-being of the people.
This is totally bizarre. Who is going to define what is the common
interests, Mr Omar Faruq Osman, the secretary general of a
journalists network in Mogadishu, asked.
What is there left to speak about if everything is prohibited?
Journalists held a series of meetings at which they condemned the law and decided to stop writing or broadcasting anything relating to the Transitional National Government and its parliament and to go on strike to show the public their feelings.
Journalists who produce websites for the Somali diaspora have not been publishing anything since Monday and Tuesday.
About 100 supporters of the strike held a peaceful protest march in Mogadishu on Monday calling for a free press.
The journalists’ complaints about the legislation have led to the appointment of a special committee of ministers by the president to investigate the matter.
One possibility is that the president will not sign the bill in its current form and will send it back to the transitional parliament for modification.
The committee met a group of journalists on Monday at the Amire hotel and discussions have begun to ease the crisis.
Freedom of speech and of the press have often been under fire in Somalia but the outbreak of civil war 12 years ago led to the development in Mogadishu of greater freedom of the press and of broadcasting.