Subject: - BBC Somali Section performance
I am writing this letter of complaint to the management of the BBC Africa section to highlight the uninterrupted decade-old poor performance of the Somali section. The BBC Somali service, since its inception during the Suez Canal crises in 1957 till the current head, Mr. Yusuf Garad, took over the management of the section, has been the voice and ears of the Somali-speaking people of the region. For generations, the BBC succeeded in keeping the loyalty of so many customers for so many decades through its impartial reporting, seasoned presenters, valuable programmes, good customer feedback and etc.
The BBC Somali Section as seen by Somali Speaking Customers
Non-stop discussions on the weaknesses and strengths of the diverse and yet interlinked media outlets at internet chat rooms, tea shops and at the traditional Qat saloons is the main stay of the Somalis. I think this predisposition to always be on the lookout for news has its origins to the nomadic culture of the nation and the fallout from the two decades of civil war and chaos permeated into the demand thus making the phenomenon a monster that has an elephant’s appetite.
Recommendations and suggestions are always passed to the feedback numbers or addresses that are readily available on the site of every operational media outlet despite the case of the BBC Somali Service becoming an exception. The consumers of the varied Somali speaking media have one thing in common - to see the restoration of the section to its formal glory. Because of the strong unifying nostalgia for the Somali service taking stock of the factors that crippled the once giant BC Somali service is always the talk of the town.
The most shocking indignity is the practice of manager Yusuf-Garaad in relation to customer feedback account. The service manager severed staff’s links to their customers by restricting access to the feedback account to himself and to his only aid. Such total feedback blackout has no justification whatsoever other than to asphyxiate the creativity of the staff and to kill the team spirit. This practice exists only in the BBC Somali section and as such keeps its staff in the dark so much so that they can’t appraise the quality and effectiveness of their programmes.
The BBC Somali section can best be described by the Somalis as pale, bland, outright boring and out-of-touch. Some of the major fundamental drawbacks often cited are lack of quality programmes, bias in reporting which became its hallmark, exodus of professional staff, lack of creativity and the presence of unhappy and insecure staff.
Mr. Yusuf-Garaad is impenitently using the service to further his political ambitions and in doing so only gives voice to a limited number of individuals in Somalia and as far as the rest of the Somali speaking region is concerned he selectively reports one-sided stories through yet again a clientele of his own.
It has become the norm rather than the exception to come across the same warlords and few other personalities time and again, given what Mr. Yusuf-Garaad terms as nine-minute interview in which a maximum of three soft questions are asked while in contrast the VOA reporters post four tough questions in a five- minute interview. The BBC style of interview cannot be regarded as as an interview per se but a free give- away airtime to promote an individual who shares political affiliation with Mr. Yusuf-Garaad at the tax payers’ expense.
The BBC Somali Section service consumers aren’t not captive audience any more but migratory one that have so many choices of Somali speaking media such as radio, satellite television and the internet with its wonders of delivering all media wrapped into one. The Somali speaking media is at present a tough competitive market where only who dares wins. It is consumer lead market that makes imperative on the managers of the varied media service providers to get hold on to the best talents in the market at cut throat prices to stay in the business. Sadly the BBC Somali service is the only media that is loosing quality staff on daily bases for the last decade and which appears in every measure that it is destined to the soon to open Somali media museum - the natural law of survival of the fittest applies not only to the species but also to the industries.
For nearly a decade the flagship Friday programme has become the exclusive monopoly of two well-known professors called the Samatars. Mr. Yusuf-Garaad and the professors belong to the same political Party called “Hiil Qaran”. The party had recently had its congress in London and Mr. Yusuf-Garaad’s plan to get the secretary general post failed to materialize. And in anger he flew to Nairobi without the courtesy goodbyes to his long time friends. Soon after he landed he instructed the BBC staff not to cover the party’s functions. Fortunately the coverage was done by the other Somali speaking media outlets as the days the BBC’s monopoly of reporting went down in history.
Mr. Garad is a politician who is very much involved in the Somali politics and to that end can’t be expected to refrain from manipulating reports, intimidating staff, stifling creativity, presenting selective opinion makers and etc. – It was a common knowledge that Mr. Yusuf-Garaad came close to challenging President Sharif at the Presidential contest in Djibouti in January of 2009.
The small budget the foreign office makes available for the Somali section which is meant for the production of quality programmes for the consumption of it customers is often used for travel expenses of Mr. Yusuf-Garaad and whatever is left is sent back to the BBC as unused surplus budget. It is good practice from the end of the higher managers to question as to why the BBC Somali section is not using its budget when records show that the service, before his tenure, usually consumed its budget in full with occasional overdraft to the tune of between £20,000 and £40,000 per year.
The BBC management should have spotted that the section is reduced to working on rolling news only and that the returned budget is just another ploy from Mr. Yusuf-Garaad to cheer up the cash strapped service – the returned surplus budget, the public assume, purchased immunity card that frees him from BBC scrutiny.
The BBC’s top management is responsible for monitoring the performance of the Somali Service as they are paid to intervene promptly and correct any slip-ups as soon as it is detected to avert the service to dropping to such a lowly level as the stage the Somali section has reached. The mass exodus of BBC talent, the unprecedented rise of complaints, the unused budget, Friday Flagship used exclusively by the professors delivering political speeches, drop in quality of programme productions, recycling the same personalities among other factors should have raised the eye brows of the corporation ‘s management, if the management is upright, perhaps years ago.
I think it is worth to mention that the former female presenter of the BBC Somali section, Mrs. Amina Weheliye, was recently compelled to resign after eleven years of service by the section head. Although she is the latest casualty of his brute management it wasn’t news to its consumers at all as such conduct is recognized to be consistent with the managerial style of the Service boss Mr. Garad. Mrs. Amina Weheliye who has educated so many through her “White Veil peace Project” will still be in the business but from a different platform that she is blissful to be on.
Somali speaking people from all walks of life and from all regions including but not limited to the former staff submitted so many complaints against the mismanagement of the service and about its deteriorating impartiality in reporting for a decade but to the dismay of every one; no corrective action to address their concerns has been taken so far by the management of the BBC. The BBC’s management appears to give no weight whatsoever to its customer’s feelings as long as it gets its airtime filled, irrespective of the quality.
* The Demise of the BBC Somali Service
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