HARGEISA, 15 October 2009 (Somalilandpress) – Washington anelists emphasized the role of free press in promoting democracy at a Town Hall in Hargeisa, Somaliland today as the Voice of America (VOA) launched a new radio station in the Somalia breakaway region.

“We expect this station to serve our people impartially and to inform us – not just with news – but with balanced reports and knowledge,” Somaliland President Dahir Rayale Kahin said as he welcomed VOA’s new broadcast.

The launch of 88.0 FM brought together journalists, government officials, opposition members and civil society activists who gathered afterwards for a discussion entitled, “A Free Press in a Democracy.”

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Panelists praised the gains in independent media, but said challenges remain. Faisal Ali Sheikh, chairman of Jamhuriya newspaper, opposed pending legislation that would require the Ministry of Information to review advertisements.

“The media should lobby against the amendment … which is aimed at restricting the freedom of the press,” Ali Sheikh said. Other panelists included Su’as Hussein Hagi Elmi, a female activist and Mohamoud Hussain Farah, dean of Hargeisa Univesity’s Department of Law.

During an interview with VOA’s Somali service, Somaliland’s main opposition leader, Ahmed Mohammed Silanyo, also expressed his appreciation for the new station. “We are happy to see the Voice of American launch this FM station which will help the people of Somaliland,” Silanyo said.

VOA Hargeisa 88.0 will air 24 hours of VOA programs daily. The broadcast stream includes three and half hours of news and features from VOA’s Somali service along with popular English news, discussion and music programs such as World News Now, Daybreak Africa, Hip Hop Connection and Music Mix. Besides Somali, VOA also broadcasts in English and 11 other languages throughout Africa.

Media News International