Steeped in corruption, the state of the Somali media should be a wake-up call for the Indian media.
Just last week I came across an article which troubled me enormously. It concerned some very shady dealings that a popular media house allegedly attempted with the Jindals. What is important to point out is that something as egregious as this has not triggered any public outrage.
Then I read another piece in one of Britain’s most respected dailies, which tempted me to draw parallels between the state of our media and that of one of the most troubled nations on the planet – Somalia.
Corruption is part and parcel of the Somali media. Journalists don’t normally ask themselves if a story is important or interesting. It is about how much money they can get from their sources to publish it. It’s known locally as sharuur, and is a form of bribery.
According to what Jamal Osman, Somali journalist (currently residing in the United Kingdom) had to say in last week’s Guardian, the situation in the Somali media has become intolerable.
He says, “Somali journalists fail to recognise their basic responsibilities to the public. As a result of sharuur, important stories are ignored and Somalis are deprived from their right to impartial information. The profession needs to be cleaned up. The media owners should do it to save the lives of their employees.”
In 2012 alone, 15 journalists have been targeted and killed. Jamal clearly is in a state of despair when he states: “If a Somali journalist is killed today we just say, “Oh, sad, another one killed”, then another one …”
My heart bleeds for the beautiful country and its lovely people. They certainly do not deserve what has been coming their way for the last 20 years. I strongly believe that if more Somali journalists respected their profession there would be fewer targeted killings. We would also do a better job in serving our people. And that would be a win-win situation for all of us.
I have lived and worked in Somalia and have witnessed the terrible civil war that has engulfed the country. For that reason alone I can vouch one hundred percent for the authenticity of Jamal’s statements. No one seriously relies on what appears in the newspapers. Sharuur is all that is needed to put your story across. The higher the sharuur the better the story. It is through this article that I learnt that nowadays the going sharuur rate in the established media outlets is about $1,500 per piece – a fortune in Somalian terms.
In the days when I worked there as a consultant, there was an unholy nexus between the newspaper barons and the so-called journalists – the common practice was to share the sharuur. “It’s common to see Somali journalists getting paid at press conferences. Once the talk is finished, they queue up to collect their cash. And you can even hear the press conference organisers instructing them how to present the story,” says Jamal.
But what is more poignant is the fact that because of the current state of the media – totally corrupted – we hardly hear anything about the country at all. Isn’t it surprising that Somalia has not been hitting the headlines despite what is happening there? The country curiously has never been on the international radar.
Surely there is a lesson to be learned for all of us, ie muzzling of press can lead to a long spell of catastrophes. Free press is not just necessary for the survival of a democracy – it is necessary for the survival of the country itself.
But the salient question is whether the so-called “democratic world” is immune from these practices. The Radia tapes are still in public memory. In an interview with Madhu Trehan, Manu Joseph, Editor, Open, when asked about the reason for him not contacting Barkha Dutt before publishing the transcript, admitted that had he done so, there was a realistic chance that Dutt might have shared those with Nira Radia, and hinted that this could have resulted in physical harm to himself.
And we all know the pressures under which our journalists work in Kashmir. Some resolutely stick to the norms of journalistic ethics – others find it more expedient to play ball with the thugs.
Much as we might wish to congratulate ourselves on our free press, the sobering fact is that the Indian press has had more often than not let all of us down – and if we do not exercise the vigil that is needed, who knows we may be headed the Somalian way.
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