Press Freedom: A Necessary Condition for Democracy?

Somalia has been seemingly moving in the direction towards great development and democratization. As of August 2012, Somalia has a new Constitution, elected a new government, put a new cabinet into place, and has been working to advance talks with Somaliland. Given the recent successes in this country, the United Nations voted to remove the arms embargo against Somalia and international embassies have, once again, begun to open in Somalia. Somalia’s human rights record, however, specifically in the case of press freedom, demonstrated that this movement towards democracy is stagnant.

The Provisional Constitution of Somalia, adopted on August 1, 2012 outlines the essential rights and freedoms of every Somali. As such, article 18 contains the prescribed freedom of expression and opinion. Article 18 (1) states “every person has the right to have and express their opinions and to receive and impart their opinion, information, and idea in any way,” and article 18(2) states “freedom of expression includes freedom of speech and freedom of media, including all forms of electronic and web-based media.” Inherent in these articles is press freedom, the capacity for one to publish an article using any outlet, on any topic, provided that it does not violate the rights of another (ie. defamation). Yet in Somalia, this is not the case 

The Press Freedom Index ranked Somalia 175th in 2013. This ranking, out of a total 179 countries, means Somalia has one of the world’s lowest rankings in terms of press freedom, surpassed by only Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Syria. Not only is media censorship in Somalia a problem, but Somalia also continues to be one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists to operate. In 2012, 18 media workers were killed in Somalia, most of which were the result of targeted killings rather than frontline fatalities. The Somali government has vowed to stop the attacks against journalists, but has not followed through on its promise. In the first quarter of 2013, 5 journalists were killed in Somalia. The country’s problems with press freedom, however, are not limited to killing journalists; they also include suppression of the journalist voice through imprisonment.

Adbiaziz Abdinur Ibrahim, a Somalia freelance journalist, faced charges including insulting a government body, making false accusations, and seeking a profit for these accusations. The reason for these charges: Ibrahim interviewed a Somali woman who was allegedly raped by 5 government soldiers.  The Somali woman who was interviewed was also imprisoned. Even though the article was never published, a Mogadishu court sentenced both Ibrahim and the alleged victim to one year in prison on the basis that medical evidence proved that the woman was not raped. The case was brought the Somali high court where both parties were eventually released. In reference to Ibrahim, Adidi Abdillahi Ilkahanaf, Chairman of the Somali High Court, stated that there was no evidence to support the charges brought against him and consequently, on March 17th, Ibrahim was released.

This case is of particular concern as it not only is a clear violation of press freedom, but this violation was an attempt to suppress victim’s right. Whether she was raped or not is not the issue at hand here, but rather that her case was dealt with through imprisonment and media suppression, rather than through the use of the judiciary. Human rights activists contended that the imprisonment was politically motivated, aimed at covering up the rampant sexual abuse of women in Somalia. The fact that the Somali President refused to intervene is evidence in this regard.

Democracy is supported by freedom of the press. When the press is able to report on issues of interest, be they in favor or against the government in power, the system is legitimized by its transparency. When people are able to express their opinions in a non-violent way,  feel as though those opinions are being heard, and feel as though they are inspiring change with in the government/country, then the transition towards a democratic society can progress. However, a society that continues to block press freedom, freedom of expression, and cover up human rights violations will not be able to make the transition towards democracy.

Yes, Somalia has made some great strides in the past year, and yes, they are on a path towards something, but Somalia is a critical fork in the road. It can either choose to continue moving towards democracy, opening its country the rights and freedoms inherent in a democratic society, or it can choose to continue restricting human rights and consequently risk loosing any gains it has previously made. Press freedom in an instrumental step in the process towards democracy.


For more on press freedom, see PeaceMedia:


Jolene Hansell is a Master’s Candidate of Conflict Resolution at Georgetown University. Her specific area of focus is transitional justice and rule of law. You can email her at or follow her on twitter @joleneh340. 


17 thoughts on “Press Freedom: A Necessary Condition for Democracy?

  1. Pingback: Freedom is how you choose to die | The Reluctant Kenyan

  2. PRESS FREEDOM?My answer is a Resounding YES! BUT. . . . .With CREDIBILITY!!A Credible Press Freedom with INTEGRITY is Vital for Democracy.A free press with partisanship will kill Democracy & injure vision the people especially in Africa.

  3. That’s correct Victor. The media must not only be responsible, but also transparent and accountable, but once it becomes partisan then it will certainly injure democracy and slow down growth and development.

  4. Just a few years back, Somalia has worse condition in terms of democracy, security and peace, economic condition, conflicts, and so forth.However, whatever it has gained till to date, it is appreciated. Without peace, security and democracy development is impossible. Hopefully, It has entered into the excellent path, so many wishes for its concrete and infrastructural development which may guide to move towards its avenues.People’s fundamental rights, Freedom of press, human rights maintenance, corruption control, justice, welfare for marginalized and deprived people, all political parties further effective participation in national issues and giving due regards to the opposition parties by the ruling one may lead towards further strengthening of democracy.

  5. Liberty flourishes only under Norms.. so, it is with the freedom of Press.. There should be regularization and guidelines for Press so that excessive freedom is not abused.

  6. The phrase ‘freedom of the press’ is used glibly but is the freedom real or perceived? Has an assessment ever been done of the power financially powerful interests exercise on the content of the media? how free are the reporters and editors? are we the citizens really being fully informed or do we get what has been approved by various interest groups? Has the advertising dollar diminished the real role to the media to inform?

  7. In my view, we must advocate for Freedom of Press from the clutches of Power mongers and yellow journalism

  8. As per the recent data, more than one third of the world’s people are living under such countries where there is no press freedom. Those people belongs such a countries where there is no system of democracy or there are weakest democratic processes.
    Such non-democratic countries or societies are depending on state run news agencies, they are completely biased towards the autocratic or dictatorship regime. They just promote rumors, propaganda and cheap popularities which are in the favor of existing government. If someone talk or think about democracy or freedom of press, etc, there may happen suppression activities as ruler’s normal routine. Normally, such brutal activities are conducted by police, army, and political supporter gangs & fighters and fundamentalist groups which are functioning like governmental mercenaries. In such a scenario, there is no questioning of freedom of press or no imagination of democracy, and no more development on social aspects.
    Sometime, there may be problem of governmental censorship of the press, where people will be sufferer. The vital things, the press can report on government corruption/ incompetence/ focus on social problems/ highlighting various issues and their solutions. But, in some countries with press censorship these are the vary topics most likely to be censored. In this regard, without access to proper information, no democratic process can be exercised. There are no cons to freedom of the press. Scandal tabloids and yellow journalism are side effects only, but they’re worth the price.

  9. I think the role of Media is to be redefined.. It is basically work two way and creating a connectivity between the People and the Govt. but alas when the Govt is corrupt and inefficient or failed state, what Media can do on that..

  10. In a democratic system ,normally media can build their own role, importance and necessity for their relative society. If some one media become biased, partial, possess greed, becoming injustice, and lacking honesty; gradually such media will be wiped out soon from the society. Thus, to some extent,media can create their role and importance to their society. While there is nominal role for media in non democratic situation because there are only selective journalists and medias who are may be blessed only by their regimes not by their societies.

  11. Press freedom has been as “the hallmark of all democratic societies, as the very definition of democracy, and as life itself”. But the media must be regulated, at least to protect the rights and freedoms of others. The questions are what types of laws for what purposes? Laws must not be enacted to gag the press, because if you gag the press, you gag the society. The press also provides the platform for the excercise of freedom of expression.

  12. Excuse me? Here at LinkedIN, every single comment I have made (and my Masters degree in Conflict Analysis is from GeoMasonUniversity) has been sequestered in a buffer and never released. If there is no freedom of speech >here<, what chance does the media–whose paychecks are paid by Corporate hierarchies–have? Zero. Zero in the US, in the UK, in AUS, NZ or anywhere else Engli9sh is spoken … 🙂

  13. While I am an absolute advocate for a free press, there must also be a recognition that the material[s] reported on are fair and presented without bias. In the United States, this has become a complete catastrophe due to the political ideologies espoused by the press. With the advent of FOX “News”, and other polarized press outlets, the accuracy of reportage has sunk to an unimaginable low. Furthermore, circumstantial evidence presented by those with a specific agenda, has created an abomination to the concept of “free and unbiased; just one look at the false information presented regarding the “justification” of the invasion of Iraq, should make the purveyors of “Yellow Journalism” roll over in their graves….
    I have personally witnessed situations where an event happened early in the day, and both radio and television coverage portrayed the result accurately, but the print media gave such a poorly researched story that I have almost eliminated any acceptance of newspapers as an authentic press device. In this particular example, even after the story occurred, T.V. news showed an accurate account at 5, 6, and 10, but the newspaper told an entirely different (and false) story. What were the editors doing???
    With television and radio, you have an opportunity to receive fairly balanced reportage (though that rarely happens anymore…). With newspapers, you get little more than a new lining for a birdcage. CREDIBILITY MUST EXIST OR THERE IS NO FREE PRESS!!!

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