After more than two decades without any regulations, Somalia’s media is now bound by a new law which could put many journalists out of a job.
It stipulates that they must all have a university degree in journalism – and also pass a government test when they register with the media commission, which will soon be set up.
Some feel this is far too harsh a regulation given that during the anarchy of the long civil war, no universities offered journalism qualifications.
A university specialising in media has been established as the country emerges from years of conflict, but its students will not graduate until at least 2018.
And one-year journalism master courses are not yet available.
“We could all be put in jail for being illegal journalists in Somalia,” one colleague in the capital, Mogadishu, said.
The new regulations fail to take into account the years of experience a journalist may have on reporting on Somalia’s complicated clan-based and religious violence.
However, others believe that given the danger of reporting in Somalia, journalists should be well qualified.
According to the global media watchdog the Committee to Protect Journalists, 59 journalists have been killed in Somalia since 1992 – three last year.
More on the dangers of reporting in Somalia:
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- Media crackdown timeline
- BBC Somali journalist remembered
- Somali journalist: ‘I saw my boss shot dead’
- BBC producer shot dead in Somalia
The law was drawn up in consultation with those involved in the media at home and in the diaspora, and is an attempt to tame web and social media content – some of which has been libellous or based on unverified information.
Anyone can set up a website and claim to be a journalist.
In some cases, stories have been published in order to blackmail public figures and businessmen and other members of the public.
There will now a fine of between $1,000 (£700) and $3,000 for anyone found guilty of libel.
Though some question whether this will work as a deterrent given the large sums some are believed to extort.
There are more than 1,000 websites operated by Somalis in the diaspora – and the new media law will affect them too.
Some of them have representatives in the capital – and the authorities will have the authority to block sites that fall foul of the law.
Other aspects of the media act, which came into effect this week, have been welcomed, including the section on freedom of speech.
It says the media, including government-owned radio, television and websites, cannot be censored.
But it warns against spreading lies and encouraging ethnic and clan rivalry.
The media commission will include three members from the government media stations, three from the private media and three from human rights organisations as well as representatives from women’s groups and the Lawyers’ Council.
The most contentious part of the law may end up being the regulation that all households with a television will have to pay for a TV licence.
The ministry of finance will set the price, yet to be announced – and everyone with a TV will have to register with the information ministry and media commission.
It is not clear how this will be enforced, and it may not be a huge revenue earner for the UN-backed government in the short term.
Televisions are mainly found in hotels and in a few thousand households, some of which are in areas the government does not control.