Like the village idiot who comes to the house of a bereaved family and sings wedding songs in the middle of the funeral procession, Universal TV is rubbing salt into the wounds of the colonized people of Somali Galbeed with its parochial and prejudiced coverage of the reality on the ground. On the day Universal TV broadcasted the arrival of Mohamed Suleiman Tubeec in Jigjiga, the region’s special police killed a truck owner in Degahbour town. On the same day, two families learned that their sons, who were in the main prison in Jigjiga for over a year, died a year ago. The sad thing is, all this time, the poor families were supplying food to the prison guards, in the belief that they were feeding their sons in detention! In the same week, about a dozen people died of Cholera in Fiq and more than thirty others died of preventable whooping cough in Rasso district.

None of these tragedies were reported by Universal TV. Instead, dancing actors and dining Diasporas dominated its news from the region. Watching Universal TV’s daily news about the region gives one the impression that the region is at peace and in prosperity. Yet, as I write, the region is experiencing severe drought and water-shortages. Atrocities against the civilian population and illegal arrests are on going. United Nation agencies in Kenya received more than two thousand people who fled the region in the last three months alone. Can this oversight be explained by the proliferation of ‘drive-by journalism’, whereby the most important news and issues are not probed deeply and presented, or is it an evidence of a sinister corporate entanglement between Universal TV and representatives of Meles Zenawi in the region?

Universal TV is a useful addition to Somali media and is playing a key role in the preservation of Somali identity and culture. Its owner, Engineer Ahmed Abubaker, deserves praise for creating a channel that provides a forum for Somali artists, historians, politicians, and parents to share their views and express their anxieties. The TV is a young station and it is explicable it will have teething problems. Some of its weaknesses are the result of the environment under which it operates. In all parts of Somalia (South Central, Puntland, and Somaliland) and in Djibouti, it hardly presents news and commentaries that contradict the official lines of the authorities in these areas.

The absence of conducive environment for objective reporting compelled the TV’s correspondents to send items that are largely of ceremonies, statements, and visits by these authorities. There is no much analysis and investigative angle to the channel’s stories. In Somaliland, for instance, it cannot air opinions that oppose the secession agenda. In Puntland, it doesn’t give news of events such as the skirmishes in Galgala from the perspective of Sheikh Atom’s supporters. In South Central, it realizes the dangers of taking a side and hence balances things by covering the press releases and claims of all sides. It is unfair to ask the TV station to do more than that, given the circumstances and tensions that prevail in these areas. Nonetheless, a common practice of Universal TV in these lands is that it has semi-independent correspondents, who are not directly attached to the authorities, and hence report with some degree of impartiality.

But in Somali Galbeed, their correspondent is Ali Barkhad, a cadre of the ruling Ethiopian Somali People Democratic Party (ESPDP) and the newsreader of the State government’s radio and TV stations. This is a serious indictment of Universal TV’s indifference to the suffering of the Somali people in the region. Unless it has taken a side in the ongoing conflict, it will need to rectify this matter, soonest. It also needs to review its decision to report from a region where it knows it cannot independently report from.

A high rate of livestock deaths is reported from Ethiopia’s Somali region due to drought and other factors.

Source: UN Photo/Gijs van’t Klooster

It should do so, for deodorizing tyrants and hiding their atrocities with favorable coverage, makes the TV complicit of crimes committed by these tyrants. From the far morbid lands of Colombia, where toddlers gazed over the dead bodies of their fathers and siblings, deafened by the wailings of widowed mothers; while the killer was on TV, receiving accolades of greatness, chants of adulation, and rapturous ovation from sympathetic media, there is a lesson to be learnt. Those media were as criminal as Pablo Escobar Gaviria, the drug kingpin, who was made to look a decent human being in those fawning reportages.

The victims, understandably, are hurt and angry. The mafia and other criminals have lots of money but that is no reason why they should be allowed to buy airtime to pursue criminal agendas and to carve out philanthropist images for themselves through reputable airwaves.

Moral considerations aside, the themes of Universal TV’s reports on the region are repetitive and boring. A single event of the regional President having fun with Diaspora visiting delegation is covered from multiple angles as if it was the death of Santiago Nasar in Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s epic novel ‘chronicles of a death foretold’.

Universal TV will have to make a stark choice soon. It has to choose either to remain the mouth-piece of human-rights abusers or to become the voice of the voiceless victims. It has to choose between the jingles of coins and the ideal of justice. And it has to decide between pursuing its current journalistic salesmanship and bequeathing a righteous legacy for itself and the Somali people it purports to serve, by standing with the oppressed and not the oppressors. In the minimum, it should not be the promoter of dictators and colonizers, if it can not stand against them.

Engineer Ahmed Abubaker and the board of Directors of Universal TV must look into this matter with clear head and clean conscience.

Mahado Sh. Dahir

E-Mail:mahadoshiekh@yahoo.com