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BBC and VOA Battle for Audience—and Employees
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By Ibrahim Sheikh-Nor
Wednesday, February 20, 2008

 

Is this a war between Britain and USA, the inseparable allies?
When Ahmed Hassan Awke and Abdisalam Herari moved their iconic radio personalities from the BBC Somali Service to the newly rekindled VOA Somali Service, the world of Somali media seemed to be up on its head, and the BBC appeared to be teetering—some even said diminishing.

 

That's until the last few weeks, when the BBC, in a classic tit-for-tat action, plucked two leading journalists from the VOA: Abdirahman Aynte and Mohamed Haji Hussien (Shiino).

 

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The latter is slated to join the BBC in few weeks, but has already resigned from the VOA. Aynte, a long time editor of Hiiraan Online, has already joined the BBC in February.

By all accounts, the trade off is both tactical and strategic. Tactical because both Aynte and Shiino are the new generation of Somali media and have shown remarkable energy for creativity.

 

Strategic because Shiino and Aynte and are young, the former being in his mid 30's, and the latter being in his late 20's. Short of a major detour, the two are likely to be a fix on the BBC for decades to come.

 

Aynte, if you don't know, is easily Somalia's next Raghe Omar. A journalist by training, he has worked for local newspapers in Minnesota and appeared CNN, MSNBC, NPR, not to mention his articulate and regular analysis on Minnesota Public Radio.

 

Shiino, also from Minnesota, was the long time anchor of the Somali TV in Minneapolis, where he helped that program become a formidable show above all those clan-based shows. At the VOA, he was the towering voice who interviewed Somali leaders and even Dr. Jendayi Frazer, the U.S. assistant secretary for African affairs.

 

So, is this a war between Britain and USA, the inseparable allies?

To a certain degree, it's a competition for the marketplace of ideas. But at its core, it's a stiff match between the old guard and the new generation in Somali media.

 

Yusuf Garaad, himself a relative young media personality (compared to Awke, Said Ali Musse and Abdullahi Haji) and the head of the BBC Somali Service, has, deliberately or otherwise, uprooted the old guard that dominated the BBC for decades and replaced them with a young, more educated team.

 

By enticing Shiino and Aynte to the crowd, Garaad has reinforced his quest to rid off the dominance of the old, inflexible guard from the ranks of the most popular Somali media.

 

Ironically, it's the VOA that's now off-balance as it celebrates its first year.

 

That said, the VOA still stands on a fair ground that it could refuse to capitulate. Led by two fine editors, Abdirahman Yabarow and Mohamed Haydara, it has taken laudable steps to strengthen its capacity and widen its scope.

 

Unlike those born-again clanists who incorrectly accuse the VOA of being another BBC, I believe that the VOA has made an effort to distinguish its self from the BBC, though it hasn't always been successful.

 

A more legitimate criticism of the VOA is its fervent attempt to embarrass the BBC though Abdullahi Yusuf's mouth, of all people. A few weeks ago, the VOA interviewed Yusuf from his bedside in London, where he unleashed a barrage of sectarian insults against the BBC.

 

Secondly, the VOA continues to broadcast a program called "How democracy works," and another one known as "Americana." The latter might be acceptable if its folded in some informative fashion, but the former is a complete propaganda agenda to "introduce" Somalis on how democracy works.

 

Of all countries, the United States is hardly an authority on this issue, given its history of undermining legitimate democracies from Iran in the 1950's to Latin America, when they don't resemble US's democracy.

 

Suffice to say that the VOA's board of governors encompasses the messenger of America's wicked democracy, Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state.


Ibrahim Sheikh-Nor

[email protected]



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