The gradual demise of the BBC Somali Service was apparent over the past several years, but the final blow was not dealt on it until now. The VOA Somali Service’s new dawn show has finished up whatever is left of the BBC Somali Service with fresh stories and exceptionally skilled broadcasters.
If you want to judge the dichotomy for yourself, then just compare the two services’ output this week, especially the two dawn programs, which are only separated by their respective theme music. The VOA’s new, 30-minute show goes on air at 6:30 am Somalia time. The BBC goes on air at 7:00 in the morning (yawn!).
The difference is day and night. And here’s why: on Sunday July 19, the two services covered the same event in London, in commemoration of Somali journalists killed in Somalia. But that’s about what they had in common. The depth of the coverage, the originality, the breath of freshness, and most importantly the journalistic substance were radically unparalleled.
Characteristically, the BBC Somali Service settled for its decaying ways of covering news events: a simple, over-the-phone interview with a participant. Said Ali Muse, the lone soldier on duty that dawn was not only late to fire up the theme music by about 2 minutes, but he decided to fill the airtime with a random noise he recorded while in Ghana on a recent trip to over Obama. He tried to convince us, the reluctant listeners, that despite the pale and the clearly uninteresting nature of the noise he inadvertently recorded, that all he wanted was to “give us a sense of how tense the situation on the ground was.” I, for one, didn’t buy it.
In fact, I wasn’t sure if I should feel sorry for his lame excuse, or whether I should call my MP in the British Parliament and lodge a screaming complaint against wasting my hard-earned tax money for a random noise from Ghana. I’m still mulling over it.
To the contrary, the VOA covered the London event with a class. Haarun Ma’aruf, with his deep but intelligent voice, prepared a feature story about it, skillfully linking the input of three participants in that same event. The distance advantage didn’t even give the BBC an edge. It was a no-brainer.
The same day, the VOA also aired another feature story by Abdiaziz Sadam about the two French hostages. A legal expert in Canada was enlisted to shed a light on the legal ramifications, and a Somali writer in the USA was inquired to analyze. Moreover, VOA’s Galka’ayo reporter interviewed the head of a new Somali band, Waayaha Cusub. Then, fittingly, we enjoyed a song by the group.
Regular on VOA’s new breakfast show is an item about the rate of exchange and the prices of basic foods in Somalia, a run-down of newspaper headlines, a sports feature and letters from us, the committed audience, not to mention a daily song and mostly funny jokes (sometimes unfunny details, I might add). That’s plenty of items in a half an hour show.
Conversely, the BBC fills its airtime with recycled items from the archive, billed as an “interesting” stuff. Hardly so. The desperation of poor coverage is profoundly clear.
Over the last week, when the BBC filled its invaluable airtime with audio from years ago, repacked as fresher material, the VOA has aired comprehensive feature programs analyzing the day’s news with fresh ideas, reliable sources and just a smart and nifty approach to newsgathering.
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Meanwhile, the flight of the BBC staff remains unabated. In fact, part of why the VOA’s new dawn show constitutes a final blow to the BBC is Abdirahman Ainte’s decision to join the VOA. This exceptionally skilled broadcaster whose utility of the Somali language is proverbial, has redefined the Somali media as we know it. His keen interest in the sudden implosion of Islamist ideology in Somalia is profound. Few weeks ago, he moderated one of the best Sunday discussion programs featuring the best known Islamic scholars. He also prepared a series of features retracting the history of Islamists in Somalia.
With the advent of the VOA, the BBC Somali Service has tattered, capitulated forcing it to reach its saturation point. It outlived its purpose. There’s no more reason it should exist, unless the British government wants us to enjoy the antiquated noises of the old guard whose relevance is clearly outmoded.
As a British citizen, I’m ashamed of my government’s decision to keep this failed ship steam ahead. But I must recoil and congratulate the American government for giving the Somali people another lease in media life.
By Ayan Ali Gallad.