By Mohamed Odowa | MOGADISHU, Oct. 21 – As the emotional effusions caused by the Jamal Osman’s Guardian piece has now subsided a bit, it seems the right moment for those affected by the unsubstantiated claims in the article to have their say and voice their objects to the content and implications of what the writer has asserted as facts but were merely careless journalism.
As a member of Somali media community and have been operating in the exceptional circumstance of our country with my fellow journalists and compatriot for the past eight years, I believe I have every right on my behalf and the half of Somali journalist fraternity to respond to the dangerous thesis put forward by the writer of the article.
This is an attempt to refute on an intellectual level to an article that is largely riddled with lazy journalism and off-the cuff pronouncement that try to rationalize the cause of death of Somali journalists rather than attempt at starting a constructive debate over corruption in the media.
Unsubstantiated and misleading claims
Let’s first and far most make it unambiguously clear that the vast majority Somali Journalists are honest, professional and hardworking without whose dedication to the truth and determination to work in exceptional circumstances.
The world would have never known the suffering of our people during the 20-year old misery that beset the country in particular the civil conflict, the recurring drought, famine and outbreaks of diseases without the brave reportage of events that has galvanized the international community’s support for our communities.
There are always individual bad apples everywhere and in every profession and Somali journalists know and acknowledge that and have been attempting to stamp out bad practices of the few that damage the reputation of the Somalia media community of whom I am proud and honored to belong to.
The thesis of Jamal Osman’s article posted on the website of the Guardian that “the majority” of Somali journalist die as result of grudge stemming from their involvement in corruption and clan loyalty is contrary to the facts and attempts to divert the attention from the systematic political violence targeted at Somali journalists.
All Somali journalists and the general public as well as the international media and human rights watchdogs and the world community at large agree that the vast majority of Somali journalists are targeted in attempt to silence the only independent, neutral voice from a country mired by 21-years of chaos and lawlessness.
Jamal’s assertion that “some” of the Somali journalists die as a result of being collateral damage after being “caught in the crossfire” in the violence in Somalia is far from the truth as, according to the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), so far “a couple of Somali journalists have been recorded as having died as a result of being caught in a crossfire” of the warring sides but the rested died of targeted political violence aimed at eliminating sources of truth.
Under international and Somali law journalists are not soldiers but civilians who can never be legitimate targets and that they should be given the same protection as every other civilian.
Reactions from Somali Journalists
The immediate reaction of Somali journalists, particularly those who dare to report from within their communities despite the daily and present dangers, and the wider general public, was understandably one of disgust, shock and utter disbelieve that one who claims to pertain to the same profession was misleading the world about the real cause of the political violence leveled against the Somali journalists.
The claims came at a time when Somali journalists are in the midst of a spree of killing and suffering from deep pains and grief for the loss of 15 members of our community this year, the deadliest since record of killing of Somali journalists began.
Our community found the content of the article as unsubstantiated, uncorroborated and unthoughtful in content; one “based on coffeeshop hearsay” rather than facts as prominent Somali blogger put it. And in terms of tone author of the piece came across as bigoted, callous, arrogant, patronizing and belittling of the brave local Somali journalists’ role as trusted watchdogs of our society and guardians of democracy, human rights in Somalia.
After reading Jamal’s article one is left wondering if there is any other ethical, honest, hardworking journalist left in Somalia except the self-righteous writer who says he was ashamed of himself for being associated with the profession, an uttering that showed his true colour as selfish self-promoter who cares not about the lives of fellow human beings but of trying to win accolades even on the expense of the lives of innocent Somali journalists.
His uttering that, by implication, justifies the brutal murder of Somali journalists were, to say the least, adding insult to misery and worst subliminal cover and coded call for the killing of Somali media workers.
The article was never aimed at reform but more of cover, albeit clever one, for future killing of innocent Somali journalists by those interested in silencing them since the Jamal piece is clearly propagating that MAJORITY of journalists die because of clan loyalty and graft they involve in.
Somali journalists saw thrust of thesis of Channel 4’s Jamal as an attempt to discredit martyrs of press freedom as suicidal and brainless morons who made themselves as legitimate targets of political violence.
By portraying Somali journalists’ situation in that light, Jamal implicitly was giving cover to anyone interested in murdering journalists as he painted our murder as merely a case of corruptions and clan related and not for what it is as a systematic political violence aimed at silencing the voice of truth. It was therefore a subliminal incitement to violence and coded call for more killing of journalists.
Somali journalists came to the conclusion that Jamal could be partly responsible for the murder of journalists here as he portrayed himself as an agent giving cover for the continuing violence against media workers and an apologist for the perpetrators of the heinous murder of our colleagues by using international platforms such as Channel 4 and the Guardian newspaper to give a stamp of approval as a legitimate opinion piece by a “trusted western journalist”.
Another impression one gets from reading the piece is that Jamal is saying that Somali journalists “had it coming” simply because of their profession leading him to feel that “as if we are watching a group of people committing suicide one by one”.
Jamal, as privileged western-raised and educated Somalo-British “journalist” approached the issue as outside observer detached from the daily realities of the local Somali journalist.
With why-don’t-they-eat-cake mentality and holier-than-thou attitude Jamal tried to rationalize deaths of Somali journalists in a way that suits him and took advantage the country’s global image as the most corrupt in the world thus sure to find ready ears for his unsupported claims of widespread corruption among Somali media as plausible interpretation of journalists murders as a cause for it.
Futile attempt at damage control
Following the fallout from the article that led to widespread condemnation and revulsion at the baseless content of his article and its cruel and dangerous implication Jamal and his yes-men launched damage control drive aimed at sparing what is left Jamal’s reputation among Somali journalist fraternity by giving slanted interviews to selected Somali TV stations.
In the first of the two interviews I chanced to watch Jamal was visibly fazed, defiantly and arrogantly persistent at his claims. He was nervous and tried to maintain his ground and at one time during local Somali language Universal TV interview described journalists in Mogadishu who freely expressed their anger at his claims as “morons”.
but during the last one I watched he reluctantly humble trying to give in and slightly tweaking his previous stance from “the majority of JOURNALISTS killed in Somalia are murdered as the result of grudge” that result from corruption and clan loyalty to his belatedly tweeted new stance that “Corruption & clan influence r killing our JOURNALISM PROFESSION” clear move at damage control exercise but a futile belated one that never repairs the dent caused to his reputation and his relations with Somalia journalism community.
Way forward for Jamal Osman
Jamal’s attempts at explaining himself so far have not gone far enough and as a fellow human being I think I should offer him an unsolicited advice to this disgraced and disowned member of our community.
My advice to Jamal is this: Since you have committed such grave mistake and betrayed Somali journalism community who have suffered so much you better:
Come out and bravely and sincerely and with a bit of humility apologize for pain you have caused and retract your baseless allegations and call to violence against Somali journalists. And since a serious and irreparable rift and mistrust has opened between you and our community you better leave this noble profession for which you have shown unfit to belong to. Perhaps you can consider being a London cabbie for a change.
Oops! I already hear the dissenting protest cries from the London cabbie community. But guys, your compatriot has a family to feed, you know!
Mohamed Odowa, a Mogadishu based, freelance writer for some international media agencies including, the Scotland based, www.streetnewsservice.org and the German News Agency (dpa) contact the writer of this artilce: firstname.lastname@example.org
Somali Journalists Association Network (SOJANET) is a non Governmental and nonprofit organization launched 24 Oct 2010 in Kampala, Uganda, by a group of exiled Somali Journalists to unite Somali journalists around the World: www.somaliajournalists.blogspot.com