The BBC World Service has increased its Somali-language news broadcasts in the country as speculation mounts about where will be the next target for the US war against terror.
In December, two extra news programmes were added to the schedule of broadcasts to the capital, Mogadishu, as well as to Djibouti, Hargeisa and towns in the Puntland region.
In addition to the usual programmes, which go out seven days a week at 2.15pm and 6pm GMT, with an extra Saturday programme, there are now also 10 and 15-minute news bulletins at 11am and 4pm. The Somali-language service has been broadcasting since 1957 and has three journalists working for the BBC inside Somalia: Hassan Barise in Mogadishu, Ahmed Said Egeh in Hargeisa and Yusef Hassan in Baidoa.
"It is a very tense time in Somalia and there is a lot of speculation about whether the US is planning to attack," said Yusef Garaad Omar, editor of the Somali service. "People rely on us, so if we are not very careful and just report what the papers are saying, people will believe that it is imminent."
Kari Blackburn, the BBC’s head of African services, said that if the media focus turned to Somalia, there would be considerable problems for news organisations working in the country, which has been torn apart by civil war and is politically unstable.
"It’s very difficult at the moment for Western journalists to work in Somalia," said Blackburn. "Everyone who is travelling has to be accompanied by a ‘technical’ – a van of about 10 bodyguards – and in Mogadishu there is just one hotel where most journalists have stayed. But when I was last there the hotel owner said he had not been outside the compound for five years – he was so concerned about safety."
The expertise of the Somali-language service is now beginning to be drawn on within the BBC: Omar has appeared on Radio 5’s Breakfast and Global programmes, as well as on BBC World.
The corporation has been unable to research audience figures inside Somalia, but claims that more than 60 per cent of Somalis living in Kenya listen to the World Service. The BBC Somali audio service available on the internet is also the most popular of all the World Service sites, with up to one million page impressions a month.
By Julie Tomlin