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Is Yusuf-Garaad the Only Photogenic Broadcaster at the BBC?
By Ibrahim Sheikh-Nor
Saturday, April 03, 2010

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If, like me, you were dismayed by the omnipresence of Yusuf-Garaad Omar, the chief of the BBC Somali Service, on the website of the Service lately, you are not alone. Of the more than two dozen video interviews published on bbcsomali.com over the past few months, Yusuf-Garaad conducted virtually all of them. That left me---and I’m sure thousands of visitors---wondering what in the world disqualified to the rest of the more than dozen broadcasters in the Somali Service?

The answer to that question is predictably sad. Based on conversations with current and former BBC broadcasters, and based on any logical examination of the situation, it’s clear that Yusuf-Garaad places a tight control over the external image of the Somali Service, essentially putting his personal stamp on the Service and running it like a proprietor outfit.

And here’s the zing: needless to state, but, Yusuf-Garaad, with all due respect, is not the most photogenic broadcaster in the Service. In fact, he’s probably the least video-friendly among his team. That’s not to mention the fact that he doesn’t command the most TV-like vocal qualities.

To add an insult to the injury, at least half of Yusuf-Garaad’s broadcasters are veterans with much loftier resumes and substantially better vocal capabilities. He, like a typical Third World dictator, reduced his colleagues to behind-the-scenes morons while he steals the lust.

Before the video interviews were introduced on the BBC website (a step in the right direction), the lust, at least from Yusuf-Garaad’s perspective, was the high-profile interviews and the Friday discussion program. The editor was fixated on both, and he continues to do so. Another highly questionable practice at the BBC is the fact that Yusuf-Garaad self-assigns virtually all assignments that require overseas trip. In the past few years, I did listen to him reporting from India to Turkey to East Africa and North America. Again, why not assign those to other broadcasters? Are they that feeble?
Some insight might be found at the VOA, the other main Somali-speaking media house. Its chief and editors have not been detected---at least for now----over promoting themselves exclusively. And the Service, though fragile and at times amateurish, has, in recentyears, exceeded the BBC in its overall performance.

Today, the BBC Somali Service website looks and feels more like the personal video memoir of Yusuf-Garaad. Or worst yet, his personal blog chronicling his mundane life. In addition to interviews with President Sharif Sheikh Ahmed and a number of his cabinet ministers who duly paid a visit to Bush House, there’s the video of Yusuf-Garaad reporting from the tomb of Mahatma Gandhi in India, and a recent swing at a technological convention in London.

And then, there’s the ominous “Akadeemiyada BBC” or the BBC Academy---a shamefully self-extolling series of video episodes showing Yusuf-Garaad, in serious-looking attire, rendering personal judgments on the use of the Somali language and media. For such a momentous task, you’d think that he’d seek the counsel of eminent linguists and literature experts. Out of curiosity, I Googled the BBC Academy, only to stumble over a whole page in the English section of the BBC, entirely dedicated to the use of language in relations to media. In it, you’ll find a slew of videos showing dozens of experts on the subject. It was a collaborative team work, not one man’s show, a la BBC Somali Service.

Lest one takes away from this piece that I’m trashing Yusuf-Garaad, I have, in the past, heaped praise on his journalistic wit, his talent and his grasp of issues. I continue to believe that he’s a deservedly high caliber journalist and a formidable political analyst, albeit with an unpredictable political tilt.

But the man is catastrophically morphing into the darkness of narcissism. If he wants to reorient the BBC Somali Service, he needs to cease the self-congratulating, camera-loving, over-compensating behavior he’s been engaged in years. He must afford similar opportunities to his colleagues. They’re not that hapless, I’m sure.

Rumors are abundant that Yusuf-Garaad’s self bestowal is due to serious ambition in politics. While he has the right to avail himself to candidacy, his otherwise fine journalistic practice must not obscured by his personal ambition.

Ibrahim Sheikh-Nor, a businessman, is a commentator and media critic in his spare time. He can be reached at: Ibrahim.sheikhnor@gmail.com