At least five Somali journalists have been killed and dozens more have left the capital, Mogadishu, this year, after receiving death threats - creating the spectre that some, if not all, independent media may close down due to lack of staff. There are 11 independent radio stations and two TV stations in the city.
"We are in a very difficult and dangerous situation. We are being forced to choose between reporting on what is happening and our lives," Hamdi Kadiye, an executive member of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUJOS), told IRIN.
The killing on 7 June of the Radio Shabelle director Mukhtar Mohamed Hirabe has added to pressure on journalists in the capital.
"All we do is cover the story. We don’t side with any group, but the fighting groups want to silence us to make sure no one hears or sees the suffering they are causing," she added.
She said many journalists had left because "they no longer felt they could carry out their duties".
She admitted that Somalia's story may be lost in the process, but said: "You cannot ask someone to continue when you know their life is in serious danger."
Since late 2006, when Ethiopian troops backing the Transitional Federal Government ousted the Union of Islamic Courts, dozens of Somali journalists have been killed, five of them this year alone, or forced into exile due to the ongoing fighting in the capital.
Ali Sheikh Yassin, deputy chairman of the Mogadishu-based Elman Human Rights Organisation (EHRO), told IRIN that journalists were in even "more danger now than at any time in the past".
He said harassment and intimidation of journalists had increased this year. "We get reports of journalists getting anonymous calls and SMSs [text messages] threatening them."
Photo: Ruud Elmendorp
|Residents of Mogadishu who have been affected by the recent fighting|
If this trend of journalists being killed or forced to flee continued, many independent media would be shut down, he added.
"Unfortunately, many of the radio stations and even the TV stations will close for lack of staff. There is a real danger that the independent media will be no more," said Yassin.
That would be a catastrophe for the Somali people and particularly for the people of Mogadishu, he said, adding that the fighting groups could achieve their aim. "They are keen to keep the world from knowing the crimes being committed and the humanitarian disaster their actions and activities are creating."
A civil society activist, who requested anonymity, told IRIN that both sides in the conflict were worried and afraid that the media reports would be used against them "if they are made to appear in court to answer to their actions".
He added: "Thousands have been killed or maimed. Hundreds of thousands have been forced to flee their homes. Someone has to eventually take responsibility for that."
If journalists left and the independent media ceased to exist, there would be no one to tell the story of those suffering in the camps, in their homes and in hospitals, he said. "They are not only killing and starving the people, now they will make sure no one knows about it."