Somali officials are denying that a member of the presidential office made calls to several media outlets to issue directives.
VOA this week spoke with members of at least four news outlets who said they had received calls from a person who identified himself as Abdikadir Hussein Wehliye.
The caller, who also said he was from Villa Somalia, the presidential office, ordered them to submit news content to authorities before it was aired.
The Somali Journalists Syndicate said at that time that at least seven media houses had received the same call.
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 had called the media outlet on December 17 and had said the newsroom needed to submit content in writing before it was 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.
Order ‘from above’
But a representative of the Somali Journalists Syndicate said that a spokesperson from the presidential office, who asked not to be identified, had confirmed that a directive was made and that the “order came from above.”
Abdikadir Dige of the Presidential Communications Office in an email to VOA denied any such directive was issued from his office or elsewhere in the government.
The Somali government denied to VOA’s Somali Service that anyone named Abdikadir Hussein Wehliye had worked in the presidential office.
VOA requested a statement from the Information Ministry early Friday and did not receive a response before publishing.
Journalists who spoke with VOA earlier this week 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.
Censorship bid suspected
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 Associated Press on Friday reported that police in central Hirshabelle state had 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 was taken off the air, AP reported.