The Somaliland media is meant to be the central pillar around which the sovereignty of the nation rested. Responsible media is this and more. It must be looked up to for guidance, for corrections, for entertainment, for unbiased news coverage, etc.
In olden days, Somaliland media perfectly fitted that garb and proudly qualified for such qualities. All editorials, news coverage, exchanged opinion. Everything had an objective – an objective that never opposed, denigrated or slighted in any way the chosen principles of Somaliland.
There were times that prevailing circumstances tested such a resolve: the proxy, inter-clan hostilities of the early nineties, the political confrontation between a number of sultans and the then president, the late Mohamed Haj Ibrahim Egal, the militia disarmament initiative, etc. Every time, the media sided with the unimpeachable principle of self-determination and, thus, Somaliland emerged the victor – no matter what.
The media prevailed upon the more daunting, seemingly insurmountable odds in a number of ways: it preached a language of responsible reconciliation when conflict brewed; it mediated in among the principle actors in emerging differences behind the scenes; it stressed the importance and indispensability of peace and stability; it swept away dirty linen under the rug when necessary – in effect, it always upheld what was dear and valued in Somaliland for Somaliland without second thoughts, without undue pretenses, without fail.
In those days, the Somaliland media was described as one of the most vibrant, most responsible in the world. Somaliland was unanimously hailed as a nation whose people had reached one decision, decided on one goal, and were determined to achieve their goal without treading one one’s toes. This good image of the country was – of course – projected by the then existing
I feel it is time that we sat back and took stock of how and what the media is doing about upholding national principles, foremost among which is the determination to restore Somaliland sovereignty. Whichever way the scales tip, there is ground for improvement. Discussion engenders healthy growth.
Above the law?
No one is above the law. One cannot do whatever he/she wants to and escape the consequences. What you sow is what you reap – good or bad. In journalism terms, you have two options to choose from: one that sees inward, looks inward, reports from inward, and another that reports what the eyes and the mind note in events that surround them to sieve the truth from figments of imagination and report it as such. The first is for the inadequately educated, materially driven, sensationalist ‘scribbler’. It is the latter that good journalists identify with. It is the latter that audiences look for.
Tread carefully; tread on no toes with the express intention to hurt the owner. A Lie lasts as long as it is being told. Words are much more damaging than fists. Media must remember that at all times.
On the other hand, it is contended, a great number of scantily trained Somaliland journalists – unlike their counterparts in Somalia – are becoming unintentionally blurting out state secrets mistaking them for sensational news coverage. Some outside observers argue that Somaliland foes need not send in any spies to espy on national security, economic and political secrets. One only has to read the papers and surf through the Internet, they point out, to find out minute details such as which side of his bed the President slept on during the previous night. Troop movements, upcoming cabinet reshuffles, diplomatic meetings, and other state secrets – punishable by law – have become, for some of the outlets, part of their daily beats, observers argue.
One cannot completely disagree with the observers.
A responsible journalist
Somaliland journalists need to be more aware of the myriad of foes the country has to ward off. Today, a great number of practicing journalists appear to have joined the enemy camp unconsciously. Burying one’s homeland aspirations and skinning one’s leaders’ alive in order to sell more copies make one a loser in the eyes of a discerning society as well as in the hereafter (assuming this Lander is a Muslim). Spreading panic among the public and belittling your leadership only brings one’s own demise that much nearer because one is of that society: it thrives, you do; it goes down; it pulls you down with it.
A responsible journalist is a conscientious public servant. There are a number of ‘commandments’ and edicts that journalists should follow to the letter. Any journalist who consciously repudiates their wisdom strips himself/herself of the honor of the title. Among these are:
- Be impartial (meaning: do not side with any party in any of your stories. The more balance you maintain in a story, the more reliable a presentation is.)
- Be objective (meaning: you have no ulterior motives in your coverage. Your only goal is to pass on news/info to your audience. Let them reach their own conclusions and make up their minds on what you have passed on to them.)
- Be accurate (meaning: opinion is an antonym to fact. In other words, opinions are yours; facts are not and must be accurately reported as they happen. One goes beyond the obvious only when more investigation into the bare facts is called for.)
- Be responsible (meaning: your coverage can have a most unfavorable effect/impact on audiences. Look out for what is good and useful to them. You are accountable to your audience in every way.)
On the opposite side of the spectrum are areas and concepts that a journalist has to avoid like the plague. Among them are:
- Defamation: One does not lie about people or twist the truth about them to hurt them.
- Plagiarism/Derivation: We do not repeat or copy-and-paste stories that belong to others. You may be further spreading false and/or damaging stories.
- Malice: News reports can ruin people’s reputations. It can put others in danger or may cause public riots or armed clashes that would be hard harder to quell than starting them.
- Corruption: A good journalist does not take bribes. An amount as small as $5 can put a journalist in dire trouble and ruin his/her reputation for good same as that of his/her innocent victim/subject.
Criticism must aim to construct, to instruct. Intentional malign has no place in responsible journalism.
These past few years, the bulk of the Somaliland media has been criticized for veering away from moderation to extremism in almost all counts. For one, it is noted, coverage of events became synonymous with coverage of political skirmishes and verbal battles. This undue attention to politics, naturally, sidelines all other socially significant coverage such as the economy, social affairs, development projects, responsible entertainment, exchange of healthy opinion, educational programs, etc. Instead, it is said, more jarringly manifest in many Somaliland present day news coverage is bias against one politician, against the leadership, against the state, and against this or that which invariably shows in either or all of the news headlines, selection of photos, story placement, omission of pertinent facts and the invention of others, the use of names and titles, use of statistics, use of tone and word choice and in a number of other equally ‘targeting’ methods and modes. This is especially more true with some than with others – the latter so much less than the former.
Somaliland needs friends not foes. Somaliland needs to earn the respect of its citizens, its neighbors and that of the international community. The most certain vehicle to cultivate such friendship is through the pages, the tones and words its media uses for it – or against it. Somaliland is only worth as its media depicts it, markets it to the outside world as well as to its own.