The president of Somalia's Puntland government addressed the opening day on Sunday of a three-day conference held in the state capital Garowe, where he defended Puntland's laws and its history of press freedom, Radio Garowe reports.
Dr. Abdirahman Mohamed Farole, the president of Puntland, attended the conference hosted by the Puntland Research and Development Center (PDRC) in Garowe, which was attended by representatives of the Media Association of Puntland (MAP) and officials from Puntland's government.
|Puntland President Abdirahman Farole signs pardon to release journalist Abdifatah Jama Mire|
Mr. Faisal Jama, the chairman of MAP and former director of Radio Las Anod, addressed the conference about media rights and responsibilities. Radio Las Anod was shut down in 2007 when Somaliland troops militarily seized control of Las Anod, capital of Sool region which is disputed between Puntland and Somaliland.
Independent radio stations are prohibited under Somaliland's constitution, while Puntland's constitution allows press freedom for radio, TV, newspaper or website.
"I want to thank Mr. Abdirahman Abdulle Shuke for organizing this important meeting between the government and the independent media," President Farole said, whilst referring to the longtime director of PDRC, Mr. Shuke.
Puntland's leader praised the state's history of press freedom, saying: "I believe Puntland has the most independent media anywhere inside Somalia."
President Farole called on Puntland journalists to use as a "role model" a man named Prof Khalif Mohamed Barre, the chief editor of Kaaha Bari newspaper published in Puntland's commercial city of Bossaso since the early 1990s.
"He [Prof Khalif] is a media hero and he is the father of Puntland media," President Farole declared.
'No compromise on security'
President Farole said Puntland's government and its independent media organizations are "not at war" against each other.
"There are nine privately-owned independent radio stations in Puntland, not to mention the countless Websites, TV stations and journals," President Farole stated. He said the government does not interfere with independent media except when security is jeopardized.
Farole briefly outlined the track record of Somalia's 21-year military dictatorship which collapsed in 1991 as civil war erupted in Mogadishu.
"During that time, there was only one radio station and one newspaper allowed in the whole country…but the civil war allowed media agencies to mushroom without control," Puntland's president said. He noted that Somali media agencies have "contributed directly to conflict" during different phases since Somalia's national collapse in 1991.
President Farole cited the 1994 Rwanda genocide, where he said a Hutu-owned radio station influenced the Hutu majority of Rwanda to massacre upwards of 800,000 Tutsi minority members within a few months.
"Media is power and it can be used for good or for evil," President Farole said. He encouraged Somali journalists, whom he said are "mostly under age 30," to become more educated and trained in journalism.
"The government's primary job is security and stability of the country and we will not compromise our security," President Farole warned, adding: "Our people fled violence in their homes in southern Somalia to find peace in Puntland and we will defend our peace because peace is the only way to development."
Jailed journalist is freed
President Farole said he supports the freedom of the press as ordained by Puntland's constitution and that he "dislikes" unworthy praise of his administration.
"I feel uncomfortable when ladies sing my administration's praises," President Farole admitted. "I prefer journalists to tell the whole truth because we don't need praises. History will record who we are."
Farole called on Somali journalists, and particularly journalists who work in Puntland, to "chose the righteous side" since there is a war going on in many parts of Somalia.
"Balanced reporting cannot be achieved between good and evil. One cannot achieve balance between righteousness and wickedness. One must always choose righteous," President Farole said.
He criticized Somali journalists "working for international news organizations" who broadcast reports that threaten Puntland's security. But when these reporters face the law, they "complain that there is no press freedom in Puntland," the president added.
"Such reporters want to find asylum in foreign countries. Please, if you seek asylum, do not use Puntland as a justification. Fill out your asylum papers now," Farole said.
Puntland's president said the media organizations and journalists should remember to protect the security and stability of Puntland at all times. He warned that "terrorist groups have infiltrated society", and cited government, media, businesspeople, money-wiring companies and telecommunications companies, as examples.
"Puntland troops have defeated the insurgents and now is your [media] opportunity to tell the truth and to expose the terrorists who threaten of our security and stability," President Farole said.
Finally, Farole said the government of Puntland has "accepted" the appeals of Puntland's media community and that the presidential pardon to release journalist Abdifatah Jama Mire is "on the table."
The president used the occasion of the Puntland media conference to pardon Mr. Mire from jail. Mr. Mire was arrested on Aug. 14 in Bossaso after Horseed Media radio station broadcasted an interview with Mohamed Said Atom, a man whom Puntland authorities accuse of terrorism and links to Al Shabaab insurgents in southern Somalia.
More than 50 Puntland journalists who attended the conference applauded in unison when President Farole signed the pardon. Mr. Mire was released from jail on Monday.
Located in northeast Somalia, Puntland has its own government and has been relatively stable since 1991, as Mogadishu and south-central Somalia suffered waves of clan wars and Islamist insurgencies.
Last month, Puntland's rulers declared victory in a war against insurgents led by Mr. Atom, who is on a U.S. and U.N. security watchlist for arms smuggling and links to terror groups.