In April, 2008, 19 Somali journalists graduated from a 12-week, Kenya Institute of Mass Communications (KIMC) workshop supported by USAID/EA. The training was designed to strengthen the capacity of Somali radio, television and print outlets to develop and adhere to professional ethical standards and production techniques.
Less than a year after this training, many of the journalists are back in Somalia helping to professionalize their industry while also reporting on Somalia’s challenging transition.
One journalist outlined some of the recent accomplishments made in Puntland, Somalia, many a result of the USAID training. The journalist’s own words follow:*
Somali Successes Resulting from USAID Training
1. Enhanced Journalism Skills in Conflict Sensitive Reporting
Good journalism is difficult when society is threatened by violence and opposing sides seek to control the media, as Somali journalists witness daily. The KIMC team acquired additional journalism skills required in conflict sensitive journalism:
- We learned about basic journalism standards for balanced news reporting, conflict reporting, and how conflict is resolved and implications of this for how journalists work.
- We developed skills for the practice of good journalism in conflict situations and now consider ethical and professional challenges and issues surrounding conflict reporting.
- We shared the knowledge gained from the training with colleagues in our duty stations. As a result of these trainings, some media houses in Puntland have skilled reporters and producers who can produce better programs for peace building and conflict resolution and the promotion of a culture of peace.
2. Successful Election Reporting in Puntland
Some of the trainees from Puntland utilized the training materials to apply to the January 2009 Puntland presidential elections. The Government issued a decree warning journalists not to report any information from any presidential candidate before the date set for the election campaigns and not to engage in “biased election reporting.” The government also said that for the sake of the country’s security and stability, they needed to restrict the media.
Fair and balanced election coverage was an important challenge for media in Puntland. So our KIMC team has played a very historic role in reporting the elections in a balanced way. The team pioneered and facilitated strategies to consider and discuss the perception of media being objective and neutral. We managed to meet and influence media executives in Puntland to discuss the media’s role in covering elections to facilitate a peaceful transition of power in Puntland. The media managers then set strategies to meet fair and balanced election reporting and agreed to identify ways the media could promote a democratic and peaceful election.
The 2009 presidential election was one of the most exciting elections in Puntland; it was unpredictable, with a contest among more than a dozen ambitious candidates and their clans over power. But the artistic and skilful way that the media dealt with the election was the muscle behind the peaceful end of a successful election.
3. A Protective Instrument for Arrested Journalists
The government sometimes tried to control the media but journalists have resisted to sustain our independence. My station was suspended for two days and I was arrested for five days in 2008. In this scenario, my KIMC team was instrumental in working for my release from jail. The team also advocated for the release of journalists arrested in other towns in Puntland.
4. Establishing the Media Association of Puntland (MAP)
In response to the critical situation facing the media in Puntland, my radio station, one of the leading media institutions in Puntland, put into effect an idea which was initially born in Kenya during our training, to establish a Media Association for Puntland to promote and defend the interests of journalists and media in Puntland and to provide journalists with trainings that would enable them to work and reduce the potential threats that face them on a daily basis.
After securing financial assistance through USAID’s Civil Society and Media in Transition project, a workshop was organized for Puntland journalists and media executives to establish a Media Association of Puntland. After a long struggle, our dream has come true, and the Media Association of Puntland (MAP) was realised. MAP was inaugurated 28 January 2009 in Garowe, the Capital city of Puntland State of Somalia. Experience from Kenya and its media community and the knowledge we gained from the KIMC training was the central appliance of the achievement we have made so far.
5. Training Manual in Progress
Journalists who participated in the training are also working to assemble a Basics of Journalism training manual. The manual is designed for working journalists, photographers and editors from all media (print, radio, TV and online). By putting the manual together, we have accumulated even more knowledge beyond our practical field experience. Before proceeding to the final stage, we need to examine the manual’s contents and involve experts in media practice and development. This kind of participation can provide additional local expertise about ethical journalism standards and practices and provide journalists an opportunity to build communication skills for responsible and responsive journalism.
We also see the advent of the Media Association of Puntland as an opportunity to complete the manual since we have an attentive MAP leadership who are willing to assist us in completing the manual before setting it for the final stage and publication.
* Editor’s Note: The journalist’s name has been concealed.