Al-Shabaab Silences The BBC
April 9, 2010 3 Comments
Al-Shabaab has banned the BBC from operating in Southern Somalia. In a press release read out this morning here in Mogadishu, the Islamic Administrations in Mogadishu, Marka, Kismayo, Jowhar and Bidoa have taken all of BBC’s FM transmitters off the air and seized all their property. The statement described the organisation as a ‘vile western mouthpiece’ propagating ‘a barrage of depraved Western views’ to the unsuspecting Muslim population.
The air seems somewhat strange and silent here in Mogadishu. The renowned BBC tone is no longer on the radios and the public is buzzing with discussion and debate. HornAfrik radio which used to air the Somali Service apologised to the public on newshour. Al-Shabaab have also issued an order to HornAfrik, the only radio station that airs VOA news, to stop airing its programs.
Al-Shabaab’s daring display of authority comes at a time when majority of the Somali listeners have been expressing great concerns about the BBC’s management and editorial content. The BBC Somali Service has been riddled with complaints from the Somali media and the public alike.
Al-Shabaab, which has been banned as an organisation in Britain has struck back fiercely and banned the BBC, accusing it of inaccuracy, impartiality, lack of objectivity, propagation of Western views and fanning the flames of enmity among the Somali population. Some of these accusations, however, are coming not only from the Islamists but some professional and journalists have also voiced somewhat similar opinions.
The BBC Somali Service is, in the eyes of many critics, either corrupted, which is not an unlikely phenomenon under Somali management, or lacks the collective professional integrity. Perhaps both.
Mohamoud Hassan, a veteran of the BBC Somali Service for more than 30 years likened the journalists of the BBC to media mercenaries propagating impartial reports. He noted that:
“The overall purpose of the Somali Service, like the BBC Arabic Service and the many other services of the BBC World Service, is to serve Britain’s foreign interest. In other words, the Service is to serve the BBC propaganda, which is sometimes subtle and other times not so subtle.
All of us who served in the BBC have willy-nilly participated in that propaganda. If we have tolerated performing this propaganda as a price for keeping our jobs (you might say we were mercenaries), at least we had always resisted any physical harm being done to our country”
Al-Shabaab, it seems however, have now had enough of that propaganda and decided to put an end to it.
‘Yusuf Garaad’s Role’
Since the appointment of Yusuf Garaad as its chief editor, the BBC has been on a downward spiral, lacking both objectivity and impartiality. Clannish interests have also been at the heart of the debate surrounding the BBC Somali Service. During the days of Abdiqasim Salad hassan, the service was said to be in full support of the presidential campaign, primarily, as noted by BBC’s swelling number of critics, because of tribal associations. Shortly after that, Abdullahi Yusuf assumed power and a different sentiment filled the airwaves; the BBC transferred its support to the warring warlords and severely rebuked the newly formed government.
Then came the Islamic Union Courts who defeated the warlords. In a surprising shift of perspective, the BBC quickly lent its voice to the Islamists and its ululating correspondents were given prominent coverage for some time. The reason, it was said, was the tribal association between Garaad and Sheikh Hassan Dahir Aweys, the ICU leader then – though this has yet to be proved. Now, in this constantly evolving pattern of alliance and enmity through the media, the service showers heaps of praise upon Sheikh Sharif’s weak government and condemns the Islamists.
It’s all a circus and the prejudiced reporting that comes from the BBC is partly because of its blurred concept between clannish interests and objective reporting; between journalism and tribalism!
As for Al-Shabaab’s claim that the BBC is helping stoke the fire of enmity and antagonism among the Somali population, this too was voiced by Mr Hassan:
“Another region where Yussuf Garaad is stoking up clan warfare, apart from Baidhawa, is between the regional administrations of Puntland and Somaliland over the ownership of Sool, Sanaag and Cayn.”
Here in the South, BBC’s dominating dissemination of ‘views’ rather than ‘news’, as it is commonly reffered to here, is said to be one of the root causes of instability within the region. Letters of complaints have been sent to the BBC by more than 20 former BBC Somali Service announcers, including Mr Hassan, but with little success.
In Somalia however, Al-shabaab’s letters of complaint come in the form of orders, and non-compliance to these orders may result in a severe consequences; consequences which BBC’s workers here are not willing to take.