Mogaidishu, Somalia (Horn Observer) Authorities in Ethiopia should reverse the recent suspensions of more than a dozen news outlets and let members of the press and journalist advocacy groups work freely, the Committee to Protect Journalists said Friday.
Since late January, authorities have suspended 15 foreign media
outlets operating in Somali Regional State, and also revoked the license
of a regional journalists’ association, according to news reports and
people familiar with the cases.
“The recent suspensions of 15 media outlets the ban on a media
association in Ethiopia’s Somali Regional State have eroded reporting in
the region, and paint a picture of a government unwilling to make room
for dissenting voices,” said CPJ Sub-Saharan Africa Representative
Muthoki Mumo. “Authorities should allow journalists from these outlets
to resume their jobs, ensure that enforcement of licensing regulations
is not used to muzzle the media.”
On January 28, the Somali Regional State Communication Bureau, a
government office that oversees the region’s media, indefinitely
suspended the 15 media outlets and their representatives from operating
in the state, saying that they did not have the licensing required for
foreign media outlets, according to a letter from the bureau reviewed by
CPJ and multiple media reports.
Those outlets, all of which broadcast in the Somali language and have
their headquarters outside of Ethiopia, include BBC Somali, Kalsan TV,
Universal TV, Horyaal TV, Eryal TV, CBA TV, Horn Cable TV, Star TV, RTN
Somali TV, STN TV, Goobjoog TV, Saab TV, Sahan TV, MM TV, and Five
Somali TV, according to those sources.
In the letter, the communication bureau said it was complying with an
earlier directive from the federal Ethiopian Media Authority to enforce
federal licensing requirements. Federal regulations on
foreign media registration, which came into force in May 2022, require
foreign broadcasters opening a branch in the country to register with
the media authority and prohibit journalists from contributing to
foreign outlets without a registration certificate.
Abdulrazaq Hassan, chair of the Somali Region Journalists
Association, a local media rights group, told CPJ via messaging app that
most of those outlets did not have offices in Ethiopia, but instead
worked with correspondents in the country.
The SRJA was quoted in those media reports saying that licensing was
being used as pretext to shutter independent outlets, and that
journalists from the 15 media companies had previously operated with
permits from the regional communication bureau.
Abdulkadir Reshid Duale, the head of the Somali communication bureau,
told CPJ in a statement that his office had issued temporary permits to
the outlets in 2018, which had since expired. He said the media outlets
had been warned about the need for federal licensing, and would be
allowed to resume working once they had the federal license.
Journalists and managers from eight of the suspended outlets told CPJ
that they had been previously granted permission to operate by regional
authorities, that the steps to receive a federal license were not
clear, and that the suspensions were enforced without adequate warning.
Also, on January 31, the Somali Region Justice Bureau, which oversees
the registration of civil society organizations in the region, revoked
the SRJA’s license and accused it of having “acted inappropriately,”
according to a letter from the bureau reviewed by CPJ and a statement by the Center for Advancement of Rights and Democracy, an Ethiopian nongovernmental organization.
In a February 3 letter reviewed by CPJ, the communication bureau
asked police and state security to take “appropriate action” against the
SRJA, which it accused of operating illegally and “spreading incorrect
and misleading messages.”
Separately, regional police detained Muhiyadin Mohammed Ali, a
reporter with the U.K.-based broadcaster Kalsan TV, after he published a video on his personal Facebook page protesting the suspensions. He was released on February 2 without charge, according to news reports, a statement by
the SRJA, and a person familiar with the case who spoke to CPJ on the
condition of anonymity, citing fear of retaliation. In his statement,
Abdikadir said Muyihadin threatened a government official in the video.
The Ethiopian Media Authority did not respond to CPJ’s queries sent via messaging app and email.