Elections in Somalia bring new challenges for media workers

Journalists in Somalia are in full swing producing election-related news as the country prepares to vote for new leaders. However, covering elections also brings about a set of new challenges for Somalia’s media workers.

Fair elections are key to any peaceful and democratic development. And media in Somalia have a responsibility to advance and support a democratic development ensuring that even the most powerful are subject to critical coverage during times of election.

According to Ismail Sheikh Khalifa, director of Star FM Radio and Secretary General of Somali Media Association (SOMA), journalists face even more safety risks and ethical challenges during election times.

“You can get yourself killed by telling the truth here, so we are taking additional safety measures during the coming months. We have also emphasised that editors and media workers are not to take sides in their reporting,” he explains.

At a round table event in the Somali capital Mogadishu almost 30 directors and media managers have gathered. Between them they identify a series of challenges they all face in the work to ensure balanced and professional coverage of the elections, which will culminate with members of Parliament voting on who will be Somalia’s next president on 30th November.

A lack of access to information on the electoral process is a common obstacle. So is the general sense that ensuring safety for media workers is more problematic during election time, with arrests and detainments of journalists and media by police on the rise

Some editors also fear that accreditation will not be granted to all journalists on a fair footing and that access to locations where electoral processes take place will be difficult for media people – accreditation or no accreditation.

The group of media managers have come not only from Mogadishu, but also from media outlets in Baidoa, Kismayo, Jowhar, Baladweyn, Guriel, Galkaio and Garowe. They agree that authorities must ensure that all professional journalists requesting accreditation will be treated equally and that information on the electoral process will be made publicly available for the media.

A suggestion was made to facilitate dialogue between media and security actors such as the national army and the national intelligence agency and to ask for assistance with safe transportation to locations where electoral activities take place.

Not all challenges stem from external sources however. Few media workers will have worked on covering elections before and, in general, journalists lack professional training and awareness of media ethics. This involves ensuring that all candidates are covered equally and as objectively as possible, not being swayed by incentives such as bribes to cover some candidates over others and describing the electoral process in layman’s language for the benefit of the wider public.

Here editors have some tools to work with. First of all, there is a need to prioritise safety and to uphold professional and ethical standards. Media can unite and raise concerns as a group, ensuring more leverage with authorities on issues such as improved and equal access to information. Additionally, media outlets can share information and sources when feasible.

Asked about what they knew about the information needs of their constituencies, Ismail Sheikh Khalifa from Star FM Radio said that to the best of his knowledge, people wanted to learn much more about the nomination of the electorate of clan elders who would be casting their votes and electing members of parliament.

“People are aware of corruption risks and hope the media will be able to play a positive role in investigating this. They also want to know about the Somalia’s women’s quota,” he added.

“We have talk shows and debates on the elections and in those talk shows most people are in favour of the 30 per cent quota for women in parliament. They believe women will be less corrupt. Some worry that women will not be loyal to their clan in cases where they are married to a husband from another clan,” the director from Star FM radio said.

Also present at the meeting were public representatives.

The spokesperson for the president, Daud Aweys, who was also present at the meeting emphasised that issues on accreditation and access to information had been noted and would be addressed.

The round table was organised by International Media Support (IMS) and Fojo Media Institute in cooperation with Somali media associations and with the support of UNESCO and the Swedish government. The roundtable meeting is connected to a series of election coverage training sessions for media which are being carried out in Mogadishu and other regions.

IMS and Fojo have also published a guideline for journalists covering the elections in Somalia. Download available here


International Media Support (IMS) and Fojo Media Institute (Fojo) are jointly implementing a four-year media development programme that aims to improve the possibilities for peace, reconciliation and democratic participation in Somalia by strengthening media freedom, media independence, and journalistic quality.