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UNIVERSAL TV: A PAY-PHONE
By Mahado Sh. Dahir
March 07, 2012

Amin Amir
Somali artist Amin Amir, who produces both paintings and popular political cartoons

The One Cartoon Amin Amir Cannot Draw

It is confirmed. Kinship matters, even to the genius. And the one thing Amin Amir, for all his objectivity and patriotism, would not do is draw a cartoon depicting Universal TV as a pay-phone. This, against the tragic reality that this TV, owned by Engineer Ahmed Abubaker, has lastly morphed into a dreadful pay-as-you-speak pulpit, after tentative equivocations at its infancy. Amir, the fearless and hugely popular cartoonist is the toast of millions of Somalis, who feel his brush paints their pain and predicament with striking candor. Yet, Amir would not put candor over consanguinity. He would not defile the canonic convention that you do not speak against one of your own. We, Somali’s, - even the few geniuses in our midst - cannot simply transcend this sickening belief system. It is a national entrapment, one which ensures we stay at the lowest stairs of the humanity ladder for a longtime to come. This is to be Somali, among other stupefying oddities.

Univeral TV, Fu’ad Video

If Edward Said’s representation of an intellectual could be extrapolated to the media, Universal TV is not a proper media outlet because it is “denatured by its fawning service to an extremely flawed power” and it does not “speak truth to power”. Rather, it speaks for power and for the rich, and against the powerless and the penniless. It speaks for oppressors and against the oppressed. The pursuit of freedom and justice must be the prime inspiration for a moral media society. But it is profit motive and alignment with rulers that guides Universal TV. You watch Universal TV and you realize we live in times far more depraved than Germany under the Nazis.

Ahmed Abubakar
Ahmed Abubakar, the owner of Universal TV

The baffle compounds when it is considered that the architects of the fawning coverage aired through this TV are persons that daily brag about their Somalinimo; people who affirm they are sworn to truth, civilized standards and Islamic values. In truth, Ahmed Abubaker and Universal TV are yet to learn what the sanctity of truth and divinity of facts actually mean. Morality and civility is not in ample supply inside the world of Universal TV. What is in tons of quantity is courage and confidence to slay one truth, invent another and impose it on the unfortunate sections of our society, who have to depend on Universal TV for news. The message is clear and blunt: it is glorious to lie for money! It is moral to serve the powerful! I get the sense the owners of the TV are ventilating falsehoods, not because they do not know it is shameful, but because they value business over and above principles.

Insiders informed this writer that there are no discussions on news-worthy issues at Universal TV.  They also say there is no proper process of editing news, and cite the infamous broadcast of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) caricatures as a proof. The TV may have corrected some of the errors related to editing since. The practice that has not been rectified and is still prevalent is the predatory behavior of the TV’s reporters with regard to selection of stories for the news. This writer cannot verify but has received numerous reports that Universal TV’s reporters take money from those whose events they cover. With no editorial oversight and no defined editorial policy, the rule of the game is “go and grab what you can”. That is why the news of the TV is dominated by coverage of cheerful celebrations from this or that clan’s festivities and vitriolic grandstanding by prominent politicians, in a nation that badly needs a voice for the poor and displaced - victims of Somalia’s bad politics. According to these insiders, even religion is not sacred enough to be exempted from Ahmed’s earthly priorities. He allegedly has a contract with the AMIC (Association of Mosques and Islamic Centers in UK), that gives him the right to get £ 2000 every month from the fund-raising programs intended to build mosques. Altruism is the franchise of the fools, one would be tempted to say.

Universal TV
Universal TV
Wedding Videographer
Wedding Videographer

Frankly speaking, it is hard to distinguish between Universal TV and Fu’ad Video and Photo Studio in Jigjiga, which covered my wedding night. Both charge money to tape only what the payee allows them to record. Both cut contents the client does not want. The day I sat beside Fu’ad to watch the video of my wedding, I did not like a picture that showed me ravenously attacking a boney slice of goat-meat, and Fu’ad has to cut it out on my instruction. Another clip pronouncing a receding hairline of mine also had to be removed. At least Fu’ad did not pretend his was for anything beyond money-making! If the whole moral value of a TV station do not go beyond brazen pecuniary pursuit, can it honestly be described as a media?  It cannot; the same way every educated person cannot be called an intellectual.

The Voice of Power

The TV’s solidarity is with the powerful: men like Ismail Omer Gheele, men like Sharif Hassan, men like Abdi Iley. It actively promotes the agents of Meles Zenawi’s genocidal war in Somali Regional State of Ethiopia. It reports Abdi Iley’s luncheon with diaspora, but it would not air the cries of the victims of Gunagado massacre. It would exaggerate the so-called development programmes in the region, but would not do any analysis of the governance situation there and the living conditions in the prisons of Jigjiga and other towns. It would interview artists and students who speak for Iley and Meles but would not give the same opportunity for the victims of these powerful men. It provides ample airtime for Iley’s frenzied political cat-walking abroad, but would not cover the demonstrations against him. Universal TV would not broadcast the condemnatory messages of the Sheikhash clan following the Rasso carnage.  It would not anger its funder, Abdi Iley, the same man who is responsible for this tragedy. This carnage is the fruits of Abdi Iley’s hooligan politics. Despite all this, Universal TV still sings for Iley, indifferent to the mayhem he unleashed on Rasso. It would not ask questions, it cannot confront authority.

This TV is not guilty of detached objectivity and the allegation is not that it is not advocating for the noble ideals of freedom and justice. No one expects such high-minded idealism from it. It is guilty of corrupt subjectivity. We do not have a problem with Ahmed’s business pursuits but we have a moral responsibility to highlight and condemn unethical media practices. Above all, we have a responsibility to speak for the voiceless victims of Ethiopian Colonialism.  We have a duty to name and shame those who want to make money out of the misery of our oppressed people. We have to speak for Rasso. We have to scream for Gunagado.

On Universal TV you will never see pictures like that of Shukri Abdullahi from Shinnile Zone who like most mothers in the Somali Region struggles to feed her family, but would most likely come across the infomercials of Abdi Ilay on a daily basis.

The Stench of an uncut Placenta

The mafia has a lot of money. But Aljazeera and BBC are not allowed to broadcast the gang’s morbid propaganda. There is something called social responsibility. There is something called moral duty of the media. Abdi Iley owns the airways of Universal TV in the same week victims of his hooligan politics are mourning their loved ones in Rasso and Gunagado. This is what Universal TV stands for. The TV is a pay-phone where only the highest bidders can talk through. To condemn Universal TV is not to paint all those who worked or continue to work for it with the same muddy brush. Journalists who did not like Ahmed’s “money-now” philosophy left the TV station in droves. These include Abdishakuur Mire, Kismaayo, Ahmed Abdi Toyo, Mahdi (the current owner of Somali Channel), Abdqadir Tundo (the owner Royal TV in Dubai), Abdirashiid Daawadayaal, Cabdiqadir Carab, Yusuf Arbac, and many others.

The TV comes across as a soul in profound moral distress; a troubled soul which yearns for disproportionate visibility, wielding the scythe of vaulting greed. Its umbilical cord is tied to those with power and money. Like a baby that insists to take the placenta into the world, it refuses to detach the rotten appendage from the belly of dictators and criminals. The stench of its uncut placenta is killing us!

Mahado Sheikh Dahir
E-Mail:Mahado1960@yahoo.com

Related articles:

*Universal TV: Singing Wedding Songs in a funeral

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