Somaliland: “Swerves on the Road” Part 5 The media

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Excerpt V The mediaJournalist Sagal Mustafe casts her vote

Somalilandsun – The International Election Observer-IOE Mission to the 2012 local council elections released its final report titled “Swerves on the Road” contained in 40 pages herein to be published chapter by chapter on a daily basis with a link for those readers interested in reading earlier excerpts or downloading the entire report.

Excerpt I Introduction

Excerpt II Previous election observation & Local council elections 2012

Excerpt III The international election observation mission

Excerpt IV An election observer’s experience: a personal reflection

The media

As in 2010, the IEO coordinators commissioned a local consultant to evaluate the performance of the Somaliland media in covering the election. This section is based upon his report.6

The purpose of the exercise was to evaluate the media’s performance in terms of professionalism and depth of coverage, and to assess whether the material provided assisted Somalilanders in terms of making informed political choices, and whether media displayed signs of political bias, bearing in mind some history of governmental harassment of Somaliland media.

The 2010 election coverage had seen improvements in terms of quality in comparison to 2005,

so there was hope that this improvement would continue. Civil society organisations nevertheless expressed concern about media coverage in advance of the election, taking the time to emphasise to the media the significance of their role in contributing to a free, fair and peaceful process. On behalf of most of the media groups and practitioners, SOLJA (Somaliland Journalists Association) pledged that the media would remain impartial and objective, and would abide by the Code of Conduct.

Over the duration of the campaign, the election campaign naturally figured prominently in the Somaliland media, with coverage increasing as polling day approached. The IEO media monitoring exercise focused particularly on a period in which President Silanyo made visits to the east and west of Somaliland, and in which accusations from opposition parties and political associations that government officials were using state funds for Kulmiye party campaigning were a hot issue. Meanwhile, complaints from elders in Berbera and Burao about numbers of polling stations were causing disquiet, and Jamhuuriya newspaper was subject to complaints from the UCID party that its tone was pro-government in reporting comments by UCID’s leadership.

The IEO media monitor chose 15 November for a day of comprehensive media review. On that day, electoral coverage of a number of leading newspapers was monitored: Dawan, Jamhuuriya, Geeska Afrika, Saxansaxo, Haatuf, Waaheen and Ogaal. These newspapers were selected on the basis that they offered the greatest breadth of readership and geographical coverage. Apart from the government-owned Dawan (which has a comparatively lower readership than the others), all are privately owned.

Saxansaxo, Geeska Afrika, Dawan and Haatuf devoted extensive space to election issues on this enhanced monitoring day. The tone of coverage varied depending on the subject of the item, with UCID receiving generally negative coverage from the publicly-funded Dawan and Kulmiye

receiving very positive coverage. On the other hand, the second leading newspaper, Geeska Afrika, was quite negative in its coverage of Kulmiye, while Waddani received positive coverage from

both papers. Other parties were not covered on the day in question: the result of the nature of campaigning allocations.

In general, the volume of coverage was not balanced on the day. Waddani received wider coverage than the other parties and associations in terms of front-page articles and photographs, with coverage of Kulmiye and UCID also wide in terms of photos, articles and references. Coverage as a rule was biased towards covering the president and ministers, which could be expected to benefit the ruling party, at least in terms of volume of coverage if not tone.

While it can be expected that, in normal times, coverage will tend to focus on government issues, it should be that editors make efforts during an election campaign to strike a balance in terms

of prominence. In particular, this might be expected to apply to the publicly-funded Dawan, but on the monitoring day its coverage of issues concerning the government and ruling party far outstripped other issues and parties/political associations. In general, the monitor noted significant differences in volume of coverage to the benefit of the ruling party across all the print media, and a dearth of coverage of female candidates especially (the monitor noted that some female candidates employed digital media, especially Facebook, in an effort to counter bias in more traditional media).

Monitoring of broadcast media, which took place over four days, revealed a similar bias. The monitoring focused on the publicly-funded Radio Hargeisa, which was supposed to devote equitable time to political parties and associations on their respective campaign days. Yet, even with the campaign at its peak, Radio Hargeisa devoted more time to non-election related news, with UCID and Umadda suffering in particular on the days monitored. In contrast, Kulmiye and Waddani were well covered on their campaign days.

Overall, the media monitoring exercise, while subject to some limitations, revealed that Somaliland’s media has much to do in terms of achieving balanced coverage of elections, and, while politicians might generally be expected to complain about media coverage during an election campaign, the leaders of both UCID and Umadda were particularly vigorous in voicing their objections. Bearing in mind the context of a general climate of harassment of journalists both before the 2012 election and since – including the killing of a journalist in Las Anod in

October 2012, reports of an attempt on the life of a local journalist on 24 April 2013, and ongoing concerns about media freedom and freedom of expression from SOLJA, the Committee to Protect Journalists and others – it is hoped that much can be improved for future campaigns.

While the full report shall be published chapter by chapter on a daily basis interested readers can down load the full report “SWERVES ON THE ROAD” AS SOMALILAND CONTINUES TO DRIVE ITS DEVELOPING DEMOCRACY FORWARD here

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