Violent extremism: Somalia media tries positive communication

US Ambassador to Somalia Larry André (left) and Omar Faruk Osman, the Secretary General of NUSOJ.

US Ambassador to Somalia Larry André (left) speaks at the official launch of a new programme to promote the role of journalists against violent extremism on August 1. Looking on is Omar Faruk Osman, the Secretary General of the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ).

Photo credit: Courtesy | US Embassy Mogadishu

Somalia’s partners have launched a new programme that targets violent extremism through proper media reporting of issues in the country.

Inspired by an al-Shabaab militant group that often targets journalists, and yet spreads propaganda on its ideology to the masses, the new programme seeks to strengthen the quality of journalism, and eventually cut out false ideologies marketed by the terrorists.

The programme was launched this week and will be rolled across the country. It will be formally known as the National Programme to Promote the Role and Place of Somali Journalists in Preventing Violent Extremism through Positive Narratives and Effective Reporting.

The programme, supported by the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT), identifies “positive communication” in dealing with violent extremism.

This kind of proper communication had been identified in the country’s National Strategy and Action Plan on Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE) as it sought to promote media influencers against extremism.

Mr Luke Williams, the Australian High Commissioner to Kenya, said his country will promote quality of journalism by helping train journalists.

“In this era where media content is readily available, production of high-quality media content that explores important policy issues like preventing violent extremism, and is at the same time inclusive of a wide range of stakeholder voices, is no mean feat,” Mr Williams told participants at the launch in Mogadishu, in a keynote speech.

“Excellence and ethical reporting will transform journalism and propel Somali journalists to a global arena. So, I encourage Somali journalists to tell their own stories – ones that matter to them and ones that matter to Somalia and to our region.”

Somali journalists already operate in one of the most dangerous places in Africa to work as one. Every year, al-Shabaab militants often target reporters who have criticised the militant group with deadly consequences including death.

Yet the journalists, the Australian diplomat argued, also operate in an environment full of unverified information. He argued they will need the skill necessary to filter propaganda from truth so as not to propagate al-Shabaab ideology.

The programme will be implemented by the journalists and media outlets. And the National Union of Somali Journalists (NUSOJ), the implementer of the programme says reporters will get communication tools to counter and prevent violent extremism in the country, while emphasizing on the use of coherent communication strategies and inclusive locally-led efforts for positive narrative and effective reporting.

The first batch of 45 journalists were trained this week for three days in Mogadishu on the “triple nexus of Safe Journalism- Preventing Violent Extremism and Effective Reporting by the Media.”

“As frontline actors who have often been targets and victims of violent extremism, the media in Somalia have a vested interest in fighting extremism in all its guises,” said Omar Faruk Osman, the Secretary-General of NUSOJ.

“It is only logical that journalists and the media in general should be a focal element in any effort that seeks to address this malignant and indiscriminate evil.”

At the event, the chief guest and US Ambassador to Somalia Larry André who presided over the launch said the US will continue supporting the safety of journalists, professional excellence, and that media freedom as an essential bit of a growing democracy.

Somalia’s fight against violent extremism has often taken military means. But even the African Union Transition Mission (ATMIS) admits that countering violent extremism is crucial.

Ms Fiona Lortan, the Head ATMIS and Deputy Special Representative of the Chairperson of the African Union Commission, said her mission will continue to protect journalists, ending violence and supporting journalism that advocates for a peaceful and stable Somalia.

Dr Martha Njiiri, the Head of Strategic Communications at IGAD’s Centre of Excellence for Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (ICEPCVE), says the regional bloc too will support the work of journalists in campaigning against violent extremism.