BBC launches 24-hour news service in Somalia

The BBC World Service in Somalia has
begun broadcasting a 24-hour service of news and information for people in the
capital, Mogadishu.

Thanks to a deal with a local
telecoms company, the editor of the BBC’s Somali Service, Yusuf Garaad Omar (pictured),
will be responsible for a news team of six reporters as well as numerous
freelances across the country and correspondents across the globe.

Omar told Press Gazette:Our journalists understand the importance of
speaking to all sides, especially in a civil-war. We have contacts among all
sides in the fighting and take great care in producing accurate and balanced
reports. We cannot afford to make mistakes if we are to retain the trust of
audiences desperate for a source of unbiased news".

Because there is such a strong desire
for news, in addition to the 24-hour channel, the BBC’s Somali service has also
launched a new breakfast programme.

Until recently their first
edition was broadcast at 2pm but now a half-hour breakfast show, broadcast
at 7am will provide a diet of news, current affairs with interviews and news
reports from correspondents around the region.

According to Omar, the BBC World
Service, especially the Somali programme, is part of the country’s way of life.
He said: “You will often hear people saying: ‘let us meet tomorrow after the
BBC news.’”

Although there are no proper
surveys of listening figures, but Omar says walking along the streets of Somalia’s towns and
cities, the BBC is easily visible in tea shops, restaurants and homes and it is
not uncommon to see crowds of people sitting around a radio.

In fact, partly due to the diaspora created by country's long civil war, the BBC’s online Somali website is
consistently the most popular website after the English site.

However covering news in a
country at war is far from simple and Omar admitted that it was ‘very
difficult’ for foreign journalists to cover Somalia.

“When they visit the country they
have to make sure that it a well organized trip that is as short as possible
but there as still dangers involved.”

Yet for local journalists who
live in Mogadishu, local knowledge enables them to navigate dangerous
situations.

The Somali capital is one of the
most dangerous in Africa and in the past month at least 339 people have been
killed and 1,500 injured as a result of the country’s long-running civil war.

Omar said: “I’m Somali and when I myself go to Mogadishu I
become totally dependent on the local reporters. Although I have my contacts
and my understanding of the situation, they will have a better understanding of
what times to go for interviews and when its better to suggest that someone
comes to meet you to do an interview.”

The safety of journalists is a key priority for the BBC and
all staff receive training on how to survive in conflict situations. During a
recent outburst of violence in the capital, Omar had to instruct one of his
reporters not to leave her home or office as it was too dangerous for her
to attend news conferences.

Despite this, BBC has a reputation for impartial and
balanced news that developed during the military dictatorship in Somalia from
1969 to 1990 when the only credible opposition voice could be heard on the BBC.

Omar said that while rival stations may sometimes be first
in reporting incident, the BBC focuses on the wider context and what it means
and what it can change.

He said: "We have two editorial meetings each day in which everybody
in the team takes part. We discuss and debate about issues –what our reporters
tell us, what the websites and news agencies are reporting and how best we
should go about the stories of the day.

“We try to address the analytical side of what we
cover and not to provoke people’s reactions.

"It doesn’t mean that we don’t have people complaining about
the BBC in Somalia but is accepted as the most neutral station and the most
informative station that reaches across Somalia.”

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