MEDIA, MEDIA EVERYWHERE BUT ONLY FEW THAT PLAY THEIR ROLE
Congratulations to WardheerNews on her second Anniversary. I thought the Website was much older than that! My perception was very likely misled by her gigantic compilations of news and other print material of astronomical value to those who seek to know. The right and left columns of WardheerNews home page is replete with topics that boggle the mind. In a very short time, WardheerNews managed to pull together relevant information for its users. You earned my respect.
Wardheernews has given me an opportunity to critique its accomplishments over those two years and having been given an inch I would like to take a yard to relieve myself of some disturbing concerns about the Somali websites in general. I will also, from time to time, mention how WardheerNews fairs in some of those points raised in my discussion. I am at peace with myself that I am not a journalist and will indulge in critiquing from a point of comfort by following a personal wish list of what I think should be the guiding principles of journalism with regards to the specific and circumstantial needs of the ailing Somali society. Over the last two years, I have witnessed WardheerNews raise above the crowd on more than one occasion to lend a hand to truthful reporting. With so many Somali websites, of which over 95% can be categorized as “Tribal Tabloids”, WardheerNews stood the challenge of the judges and the juries of the Somali coffee shop crossfire (fadhi-ku-dirir). It has earned the name: War Dheer – far reaching news - as only effective, wholesome, journalism and reporting are far-reaching.
The role of the media in the lives of societies continues to grow. It can potentially be used to accomplish a myriad of ends, good and bad. It has the capacity to manipulate audiences, to misinform, to inform and educate, to orient and disorient and to play on the emotions of people. For this reason, we have to distinguish between good journalism that enhances the information capacity of a society and one that corrupts and contributes to the disintegration, decay and animosity of a society. This consideration has extraordinary significance for the Somali people inside and outside the country and I will pay special attention to how journalism can affect a society in ruins.
“Yes, we can handle the Truth”
As the Somalis say “warbaa ugu gaajo xun” – The worst hunger is the one for news. The need to know is so colossal that it has attracted so much economic potential. Live radio reporting and the internet give news in peace meals and mingle that with the commercials just at every critical juncture of the news. This reminds me of my childhood in Mogadishu. The famous storytellers of Ceelgaab did the same thing. The most famous one that I used to listen to for hours was the story of Prophet Yusuf. They would begin telling the story but they would embellish it so much that it literally took the whole day to tell it and at every turn when you have to know what is next, they would ‘go to a commercial’. But it was a very different commercial – one that had very personal appeal and their appeals came in a poetic format; 10 people to whom Allah forgives their 10 preceding parents and their 10 progenies that will follow them who will give 10 shillings each. People would pay so fast to minimize the “commercial” time but they had no clue. It will be followed by: 9 people who pay 9 shillings each to whom Allah gives nine qualities of the Prophet. And then: 8 people who reap the rewards of the 8 angels who carry Allah’s throne in the Day of Judgment; and still, 7 people to whom Allah opens the doors of the 7 heavens who will give 7 shillings each. They will do that until they get to: one person who becomes the similitude of the one son of Mary who will pay 1 shilling. And if you think that only ten or nine or 7 or one person will pay each time, you cannot be more wrong. A hundred people will pay at each commercial scene. Can you even become the similitude of Jesus Christ? That is not the point. The point is that your attention is not yours anymore! Their genius did not only lie in delivering an attention grabbing story, it also lay in the cleverness of their commercial which had a spiritual connotation. My point is that the economic potential of the media has an equally devastating potential for social strife. Imagine if those story tellers where fundraising for war with another tribe!! The power of the media and the grip it has over humanity’s need for news is also compounded by the internet which has provided an easy means of dissemination not to mention its extraordinary capacity to replay news in its original version. With that power, comes the potential for destructive outcomes. The outcome of an irresponsible use of such power will already have caused catastrophic effects before remedial action is even formulated.
Reporting is the act of telling an audience what happened, where, when, why and how. It speaks to an audience who may or may not have witnessed the occurrence. A good reporting is true, impartial, balanced and deep and broad all at the same time. It has to reflect the true account of what happened and must not be a skewed version of the events. The sequence of events is as important as the cause(s) and the effect(s). These are part of the tools that give the person and the society their parameters of analysis in drawing conclusions. Wholesome journalism does not cover up the truth or make up one of its own invention. It tells it like it is and explains why it is so and what is needed to overcome it. Journalism that manufactures information usually embellishes the truth, add on to it and leaves out certain parts. In a few cases, it comes up with a totally manufactured news and analysis for motives and purposes other than journalism. Such manufacturing on the part of certain media outlets usually takes for granted the mediocre level of intellectual capacity of their audience and their very low ability to see the fabrications in reporting. In the West, these are usually called tabloids and they normally cater to tiny groups with worldviews incompatible with the norms of the larger human decency. It is painful to see that an extremely large number of Somali websites are tabloids for tribal malevolence.
The recognition and awareness that journalism can affect people’s lives in ways that the journalist cannot imagine is integral to the knowledge of the journalist of any media outlet. News, especially in the Somali context of tribal allegiance and conflicting political ideologies, can have profound impacts on a society in turmoil. It can ease reconciliation or inflame the conflict. It can kill and it can save lives. It carries subtle meanings and innuendoes decipherable to the society and once these are detected, the reverberations are carried far and wide across the society.
“Journalists, Welcome to the Third World…. At Your Own Risk”
Journalism is part of the checks and balances of a democratic society. It fights corruption, abuse of power and privileges, human rights violations, misappropriations of national resources and lots of other mishaps that are committed daily by those in power at the expense of the society. In the Third World, where governments are heavily involved in either controlling or censoring the media, the loss of check and balance comes at a hefty price. In the West, the media continuously and meticulously takes advantage of its role as a watchdog. The absence of the watchdog role of the media in the Third World in part contributes to the perpetuation of corruption and abuse of power. But there is a missing link – the society. In the West, the society demands to know. She stands up for her right to know. Demanding freedom to know compels a society also to become the judge and the jury of the media by judging it on the fundamental criterion of quality of reporting. The society also represents a check and balance and holds the media responsible for not only the quality of reporting but also on the veracity of news and other information items propagated by the media. This represents a society’s way of controlling what is conducive to her development and what contributes to her decay. A degree of social awareness is crucial for a society to make her check and balance role a successful one. It is, therefore, only reasonable to expect that social maturity and the maturity of the media are directly proportional. The societies of the Third World, especially Africa, are missing much more freedoms to care about the ramblings of a few journalists. Yet, it is ironic to note that those few journalists can contribute to invigorating the thought process of the entire society. Development begins with a thought and thinking begins with a question. The commentary of a news item can become that question.
Controversy! And more Controversy isn’t that what the Media is all about?
The media is not only a watchdog of corruption and abuse of power and resources. It is also a watchdog of thoughts and ideologies especially those that tend to create social strife. Wardheer’s feature article on Faisal Ali Warabe’s message of hate is a good example that personally gives me reassurance and hope that there are those of us who can see the forest for the tree. The article is a good philosophical essay on a rarely asked question: Do we take the Somalis out of Africa or do we take the Arab myth out of the Somali? It is a question that touches a nerve; a nerve covered with a thick insulating coat of mythology, self-doubt and lack of confidence. It was courageous and exemplary of WardheerNews to rise to the occasion.
Controversy can be good and bad. It is up to the specific media outlet to choose with care and diligence which is which without pretense that it knows better and without pursuit of what it perceives as a “golden opportunity” to flirt with fame. While a little controversy may help, a lot may have negative impacts. It is my personal rule of thumb that a good controversy is one that allows a society the opportunity for self-criticism and introspection. While it must be formulated as a learning experience for everyone without finger pointing or making it personal, it must also be a channel of information exchange and social education. A good controversy follows the path venting – understanding – healing and finally leads to better social cohesion.
The media plays a role in the development of social education; in bringing to the forefront ideas that challenge the social thinking process, in dispelling long held myths, and in promoting a society’s consciousness of and awareness of itself. Because the media is driven by the printed idea and the analysis of ideas, it rubs off on the society and therefore, the media’s achievements become the achievement of the society.
Loyalty, Shshmoyalty… Can the media see the big picture?
It is difficult, if not impossible, to envision a national success if the media is absolved of their role in nation building – an endeavor that requires the consorted effort of all the citizens and institutions of a nation. Although each is pursuing its vision and mission and fulfillment of their duties and responsibilities, together they uphold and cherish sacred ideals which are the basis of national identity: the common values shared by the citizens or the bonds that connect the society. These ideals and values help solidify common purposes and represent rallying points for solidarity. Societies and nations may pride themselves on love for peace and stability, economic ingenuity, excellence in sports, power and world domination, literature and so forth. These ideals are cultivated, nurtured, taught at schools as part of the national curriculum and reflected by particular nations in their folklore and culture in the world stage and are rallying points during national crisis.
Again and again, it is the media that, along with other national institutions, plays a vital role in selling these ideals to the society. A media that understands the loyalty she owes to her citizens and her nation is a conscientious media. The willingness to use power for constructive purposes is a state of mind; a state of consciousness of your responsibility. The power in the hands of individuals devoid of conscience, morality and the ethics of their profession will most certainly incite a “fitna”. And as the Prophet of Allah (csws) said: “Lacnatu Laahi calaa man awqada fitnatu naa’ima” – the curse of Allah be on those who wake up a slumbering fitna”. Ammiin.
We welcome the submission of all articles for possible publication on WardheerNews.com So please email your article today Opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of WardheerNews
Maqaalkani wuxuu ka turjumayaa aragtida Qoraaga loomana fasiran karo tan WardheerNews