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Somalia15 May 2006

Covering chaos : Journalists struggle to work effectively amidst fighting in Mogadishu

Reporters Without Borders and its Somali partner organisation paid tribute to journalists trying to work in strife-torn Mogadishu where an alliance of warlords is battling an Islamist militia and offered advice on how to do their jobs effectively.

“The effect of the fighting on the media’s capacity to report confidently and independently is worrying,” said press freedom organisations Reporters Without Borders and the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ)

"Journalists in conflict areas are habitually treated as enemies or as servants by conflicting groups, because of their role in uncovering the truth. We strongly appeal to the two groups fighting in Mogadishu to respect the rights of innocent people to live free from terror, including the rights of journalists to report impartially", they said.

Seven FM radio stations and at least four newspapers are trying to cover the hostilities independently and they face escalating difficulties. The rights of journalists are frequently trampled in Somalia and violators enjoy absolute impunity.

Many local journalists have refused to cover the conflict because of the high risk of being hounded or killed by the belligerents determined to stop them reporting unwelcome facts.

Some newspapers are not being printed on schedule because of lack of staff, shortage of transport and the high price of materials. Circulation has fallen off since vendors are too fearful to take to streets held by militia. Key road junctions in the city which vendors used until recently have been turned into checkpoints held by armed men.

During the latest fighting by the warring groups in the capital, a landmine was buried on the road leading to the headquarters of NUSOJ. It was removed before anyone could be injured.

Destabilised by the violence, Mogadishu’s journalists are failing to cover the fighting effectively for fear that they will be targeted themselves. Most of them have little experience or background information about the mechanics and evolution of conflict. But the media has been trying in past few days of fighting to present the views of ordinary citizens opposed to armed confrontation.

Further, some journalists have been paid a lot of money by the different factions to publish false information, to advance the belligerents’ political agenda. Journalists have been paid amounts ranging from $50 to $500 to plant misleading stories.

The civilian inhabitants of Mogadishu are either fleeing the city or trying to hide from the battle. Like other civilians, journalists living or working in the north and east of Mogadishu are the most exposed and need to stay close to their families to protect and feed them, or to arrange their transport out of the city if the situation worsens.

Reporters Without Borders and NUSOJ jointly recommend that journalists:

-  Give more priority to covering the views of ordinary citizens rather than the leaders of the combatant groups.
-  Avoid reporting solely about the two combatant groups and concentrate on the affected sectors of society.
-  Refuse to put out false information.
-  Describe the groups as they refer to themselves and avoid prejudicial labels.
-  Report on the evolution of fighting by quoting an exact source instead of making it appear to be the journalist’s point of view.
-  Use precise words to clearly explain the circumstances of any disaster.
-  Cover all political sides equally.

NUSOJ, Tree Biano Building, Via Maka Al-Mukarah, KM4 Area, Waberi District, Mogadishu - Telefax: +252-1-859944 - Email: faruk129@yahoo.com



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