Friday, May 25, 2012
Somalia is in the throes of a bloody civil war. Challenged and provoked from all corners, the Somali central government has lost its grip on large sections of the country. This has led to severe famine and streams of refugees. In this situation, access to impartial information is literally of vital importance. Journalists who try to provide objective coverage are censored, intimidated and murdered by the various clans that dominate the country. In the first few months of this year alone, six journalists were killed in Somalia. Despite these difficult circumstances, Free Press Unlimited works through its Radio Hirad project to help exchange and disseminate unbiased information.

Radio is the key source of information for people in Somalia, where both print media and television have a very limited reach. However, local journalism faces serious challenges at the professional level. One of Radio Hirad’s contributors explains the key problem for the press in the country: ‘Journalists have enjoyed minimal training, and are very poorly paid. The result is that their reporting skills leave much to be desired, and that members of the press are susceptible to corruption. As a profession, journalism is not very popular, among other things due to the safety risks. Journalists see how their colleagues are murdered, and are often threatened themselves. On more than one occasion, journalists have therefore decided to leave the country altogether.’

Free Press Unlimited Director Leon Willems is concerned about the situation: ‘The international community continues to treat Somalia like a pariah state; a country that produces nothing but pirates. In the meantime, it ignores the underlying causes of the problems in the region. We try to call attention to these underlying causes by promoting independent journalism, because we know how important this is as a precondition for the structural improvement of the local situation.’

Radio Hirad comprises a network of eleven radio stations from various regions. It brings journalists together and enables them to train their journalism skills. To guarantee the continuity of the project in the longer long term, the station management also receive training in the effective administration of an organisation. Besides offering trainings, Radio Hirad also produces a weekly independent radio programme for the participating stations. The objective of the project is to structurally strengthen the capacity and quality of local journalism in Somalia and simultaneously increase solidarity among Somali media professionals from a variety of regions.

Radio Hirad broadcasts to audiences in Mogadishu, Puntland and Somaliland among other areas. It provides its listeners with relevant information: Where is the fighting going on? Where can you flee to? In addition, Radio Hirad reports on political topics like the negotiations between Somaliland and Somalia’s transitional federal government and shares stories about human resilience in the midst of war and famine. The Radio Hirad contributor, who wishes to remain anonymous for safety reasons, offers an example: ‘We recently broadcast an item about the prominent Somali doctor and human rights activist Hawa Abdi, for instance, who has made offering help to the victims of war and poverty her life’s mission.’