Somali officials are denying that a member of the presidential office made calls to several media outlets ordering them to submit content for review.
VOA this week spoke with members of at least four news outlets who all said they had received such calls from a person who identified himself as Abdikadir Hussein Wehliye. The caller claimed to be from Villa Somalia, the presidential office.
“Firstly, there is nobody by the name of Abdikadir Hussein Wehilye that is employed with the President’s Communication Office and secondly there isn’t anyone with that name authorized to speak with the media on behalf of the President’s Communication Office or any other departments at Villa Somalia,” Abdikadir Dige, director of communications for Villa Somalia, said in an email to VOA on Friday evening.
The Somali Journalists Syndicate said at that time that at least seven media houses received the same call.
The Associated Press on Friday cited a media association’s concerns about the apparent directive.
Among those affected was Risaala Media Corporation in the capital, Mogadishu.
Managing Director Mohamed Abdiwahab told VOA that a person identifying himself as being from the presidential office called the media outlet Dec. 17 and said the newsroom needed to submit content in writing before it aired.
Deputy Information Minister Abdirahman Yusuf Adala told VOA earlier this week via a messaging app that he was not aware of such a directive.
But a representative of the Somali Journalists Syndicate said that a spokesperson from the presidential office, who asked not to be identified, confirmed that a directive was made and that the “order came from above.”
Dige, in an email to VOA on Thursday morning, denied any such directive was issued from his office or elsewhere in the government.
In a follow-up email late Friday, Dige said that the original VOA article made “glaring allegations without any credible sources.”
Journalists who spoke with VOA earlier this week said they believed the order did come from the government, which had issued two other directives to media in recent months on how they should cover the militant group al-Shabab.
The government this year has warned off journalists from publishing al-Shabab content and said they should refer to the militant group only as Khawarij, which loosely translates as “those who deviate from the Islamic faith.”
The Somali government is engaged in a military campaign against al-Shabab. But journalists say the directives on covering the group will limit press freedom and could put them at risk of retaliation from the militant group.
Because of those orders, journalists who spoke with VOA this week said they believed this was a new order with an aim to censor the media.
Abdiwahab of Risaala said he thought the order infringed on the country’s constitution and media law, both of which provide guarantees for media freedom.
He and Somali Journalist Syndicate member Mohamed Bulbul thought the order was a further attempt to curtail their independence.
Somalia is already a difficult environment for reporters, media watchdogs say. As well as attacks and threats, journalists risk arrest.
The AP report on Friday also said that police in central Hirshabelle state detained four media workers over coverage of al-Shabab attacks in rural areas.
The chief editor of Radio Hiiraanweyn, Mustaf Ali Adow, and three others were detained Thursday and the station taken off air, the AP reported.