How lack of creativity and unethical journalism is killing the Somali media
The Somali media is in dire straits and needs to ask a few pertinent questions to change its current sad state of affairs.
Does the Somalia media understand its role? Does it inform, educate, entertain and play its watchdog role by keeping checks and balances on government performance? Does it know what is newsworthy and what is not? Does it know what interests its audience?
Watching one news session on the Somali TV stations from start to finish needs a high level of tolerance. One is subjected to an exasperating test especially when the news presenter says that he will be back with more news after the short commercial break.
What follows is a series of adverts delivered in a monotonous style. You are treated to a series of photos of the commodity with a voice over praising the commodity in poetic words that focus on rhyme and rhythm rather than demonstrating the benefits of the commodity. The cumulative time spent on adverts is almost equal to the time it takes to broadcast the news.
As for the news itself, politicians or leaders on trips within or without the country galore. A village leader travelling to another village to probably have a cup of tea with his counterpart is likely to make headlines than floods wreaking havoc in Middle Shebelle region, floods that cause death and destruction.
You are also unlikely to see any meaningful focus on the signs of hope and development that are evidently springing up in a country that has long been synonymous with doom and gloom. There are a lot of interesting and topical issues to report about in Somalia, the obsession with politicians is mind numbing.
The radio stations air repeats of talk shows for weeks and sometimes months. The adverts are not any better than those on TV, but now the audience are spared the infuriating poor quality of videos. You have to put up with the monotonous audio though, a confirmation that the lack of creativity in the Somali media is cross cutting.
There are countless Somali news websites, most of which are inclined to tribal and political groups. The websites sow seeds of divisions, the battleground where the tug of war among writers is taken to unacceptable levels. The blatant disregard for ethics is particularly galling, with photos of dead bodies in grotesque positions at scenes of explosions frequently posted without any care to the dignity of the victims or their loved ones. Further, inaccuracy and plagiarism are just but some of the deeply rooted and widespread unethical practices in the Somali news websites.
The print industry is struggling with content, quality of layout design, and quality of the printing paper. It is not all woe though. A few weekly newspapers produce high quality publications which not only have a good layout design that is visually appealing and rich in content.
The above issues are pointers to a number of challenges affecting the Somali media:
1) Lack of regulatory body that is primarily mandated to monitor the information that is disseminated to the public and is empowered to hold unethical media stations accountable while equally upholding the freedom of press. The body should be mandated to license the media stations so that it can keep a database of all the local TV and radio stations, and newspapers and potentially a media monitoring unit to look at issues of non-compliance with the sets rules and regulations..
2) Lack of journalism schools. Years of turmoil have adversely affected the education sector in Somalia and journalism is no exception. There is also a misconception by many that to be a journalist, all one needs is eloquence and good command of the reporting language. This led to a plethora of young unqualified journalists waxing lyrical about anything and everything with little substance. The many learning institutions that are springing up in Somalia are reluctant to invest in journalism courses with the fear that they may not get a good number of students.
Lazy and careless journalism. Somali journalists have proved to be lazy in their inability to produce balanced stories where two conflicting sides are given opportunity to tell their sides. The lack of consistency and creativity in airing TV interviews, radio talk shows, and publishing articles on topical issues that would have generated public discussions through call-in sessions or through social media paints a picture of lazy journalists who are not passionate about their work or are unwilling to take initiative. Majority of the journalists are also careless with speech. A case in point is where three journalists were detained and a radio station was shut down for allegedly spreading false stories over Ebola infection in the country.
Media ownership. The owners of the media are said to be greatly influencing the information that is disseminated to the public for the their self aggrandizement. In this case, the journalist becomes toothless in telling the truth and is forced to dance to the tune of his/her boss. This also points to lack of regulation in conflict of interest and overall professional standards for the practice of journalism in the country.
Lack of motivation from the employers. Journalists in Somalia are either not paid or are paid very low salaries. The journalists are invited to cover eventsand are given money by the event organizers. This is one of the reasons the news is dominated by events organized by government ministries and organizations most of which, from a professional perspective, are not newsworthy. It is unlikely that a journalist paid to cover an event will report objectively about a person or a body that gave him the money in the first place.
The senseless killing of journalists by al-Shabaab and the government’s knee jerk response in dealing with media practitioners whenever there are controversialreports that are critical of government leaves the journalists severely exposed to danger. They bear the brunt of brutality making them circumspect on contentious issues and may not be exhaustive in their reporting.
Despite the many challenges facing the Somali media, and the harsh conditions the journalists work in, Somali journalist deserve to be commended for putting their lives on the line to give something to their audience. With the Somali Federal Government trying to establish systems, there is likelihood that a media regulatory body will be created which will definitely help in responsible journalism, and with sense of law and order slowly returning to the country, with it comes along a conducive environment where journalists can thrive in their professions, an environment that will help the establishment of journalism institution where media practitioners are equipped with relevant knowledge that will propel the Somali media to greater heights. It is not fictitious to believe that the strong beam of hope casted on the future of the Somali media will only flourish to enable the fourth estate excel in informing, educating and entertaining the Somali people.SOURCE SAHAN TOURNAL BY BASHIR HASHI YUSSUF