The African Union Mission in Somalia (Amisom) has launched a sensitisation campaign on the need for fair coverage of elections, raising the role of the media in the country’s political set-up.
The programme, a collaboration between Amisom, the National Union of Somalia Journalists (Nusoj) and the main electoral management body (FEIT), seeks to place journalists at the fore of informing the public about politics without inciting them.
It was launched on Saturday and will initially include dozens of journalists from all five federal states, where indirect elections for the Lower House are due to begin.
Gradually, officials say, the network of trained journalists should increase, signalling an expansion of focus by a mission that was initially only involved in security, not governance.
Amisom said in a statement that the workshops will push “objective election coverage” and be supported by Nusoj and the African Union Commission’s Electoral Assistance Mission in Somalia.
“It is intended for Somali journalists and aims to promote fair coverage of the ongoing elections,” Amisom said on Saturday.
And according to Simon Mulongo, the deputy head of Amisom, the media will now be key in promoting peaceful, free and fair elections for Somalia and that the “AU is keen to promote a conducive working environment for journalists before, during and after the elections for them to discharge their professional responsibilities”.
Somalia has been holding its much-delayed elections since August. It began with indirect elections for the Upper House (Senate). Some 52 of the 54 seats have been filled and Galmudug state was expected to elect its final two slots this week.
The country will then begin filling the 275 slots for MPs in the Lower House (House of the People). The posts will be filled according to slots allocated for each of the five federal states, and the capital region of Benadir. The regions are Puntland, Jubbaland, South West, Galmudug and Hirshabelle.
Nusoj said the awareness campaign will provide a much-needed “essential skills and fundamentals journalists need to professionally cover elections”.
The lobby’s organising secretary, Nima Hassan Abdi, admitted that Somalia’s journalists have always needed professional support, arguing that while the union has seen more than 200 journalists trained on elections, more will need the support to ensure accurate reporting.
The programme is the AU’s first inclusion of the media in a political season where their role was curtailed in the past. Somalia is also one of the most dangerous places in Africa to work as a journalist and Nusoj had in the past urged reforms, including amendments to media laws, protection of their work and improvements in their welfare.
FEIT chairman Mohamed Hassan Irro pledged to ensure journalists “report on what citizens hope and expect from their future reps and to inform them independently”.
The programme marks the second time in a year that the AU is collaborating with local lobbies to ensure balanced coverage of news and prevention of hate speech.
In December last year, Amisom, Nusoj and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa teamed up with the Somalia government in a campaign against hate speech and incitement.
It came after a series of hate messages on mainstream and social media.