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By Mohamed Shiil
Abdinasir Gedi, a radio technician and video reporter, insists on working in the hostile environment of Somalia, a place replete with dangers for journalists.
His elder brother, Bashir Nur Gedi, the former director of Shabelle Radio, was gunned down and killed. Abdinasir sustained leg and arm injuries after a mortar shell hit as he covered a press conference in the Deynile district of Mogadishu. On many occasions he has received life-threatening telephone messages. Still, he insists his work, and that of others who work in the Somali media, is necessary.
"We (journalists) should tell what is happening here (Somalia). Who else? Why not stay and cover events."
"Several times my camera has been confiscated by either insurgents or the TFG [Transitional Federal Government] soldiers allegedly accusing me [of] spying for the other side ….insurgents always claim that I work for foreign media outlet," he added.
When Somali-language television channel Horn Cable aired footage of the body of Fazul Abdullah Mohammed, the head of an East African cell of Al-Qaida who was killed in Mogadishu in June, Gedi said he received threatening phone calls. "'You will be receiving the consequence,' said one message," the journalist recounted.
Gedi's daily activity starts with checking the schedule and calling sources, working his beats, preparing his camera and lighting equipment. By then, he has developed a strategy.
"If there something I know to happen, I call my colleagues from the other media outlets, I do not go alone with camera but with other colleagues, sometimes as [a] convoy because everything could happen. Sometimes we change our regular vehicle with Horncable TV logo in fear of targeting," he said.
Officials are sometimes angered by a story aired by media outlets not controlled by the government. When the journalist who wrote the story goes to the offcial's next press conference, the reporter won't be allowed to enter or his equipment may be confiscated.
Nuh Muse, a veteran journalist based in Garowe, said that he was arrested several times for stories aired by the media outlet where he works, although he did not cover the story.
"Just officials say who is representing, if you say me, you are under arrest after being intimidated or sometimes tortured in front of the other journalists," said Muse.
Journalists like Abdinasir Gedi and Nuh Muse do not often appear in public places such coffee shops at night for safety. They don't feel even safe in their own homes. They feel most secure in their offices. It literally becomes their second home.
"I do not feel secure while staying at home because there is no guard, but in the workplace we have guard with rifles and pistols. Almost since the last two years the workplace was also my residence. There we have beds to sleep. Our workplace was housing more than half of our staff who were unable to go to their homes," said Gedi, who once fled to Kenya out of fear.
"I decided to return home because as a journalist I have the responsibility to inform the public. If journalists flee for safety, who is taking and fulfilling this duty to inform the public?" he asked.
Relatives and close friends of the journalists are likewise concerned about the safety of their beloved ones in the Somali media. They sometimes advise them to leave their chosen career until stability and security returns.
Abdi Mohamed Kitata, a teacher in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, fled from Mogadishu in 2006. A close friend of this reporter, he has often counseled me in e-mails and SMS messages to step down and search for other jobs.
"My friend, Somalia is not journalism could be done or journalists could work, better try find out other jobs, you are not safe," said Kitata in one of his emails.
Media owners aren't always sympathetic to the security needs of their reporters, maintains Nuh Muse. "Even though journalists take tougher decisions to work in the country they are not well paid and well respected by their employers. Employers do not know more about hardships facing us and they are not in the frontline grabbing news stories in the battlefield."
"What interests [them] is [getting] the news aired but not the human being (journalist) suffering," he says. "When you notify them that you [are] threatened, they just assume it that you were kidding, as [if] nothing would happen to you."
Journalists feel uneasiness and despair when a colleague is being targeted or arrested. All broadcast media outlets play a well known and widely sung song known as "Respect the journalist" that emphasizes the right to seek out information, the right of free expression and respect for journalists.
"Whenever I hear that song I feel that something happened: a journalist killed, arrested or harassed. If somebody is killed, I remain indoors and never go out the next couple of days or weeks," said Mohamed Warsame, a journalist in Mogadishu.
"The song, with a female voice, is emotional and is a sign of mourning for victimized journalists," he added.
Paranoia accompanies reporters to every story. Journalists suspect they are occasionally followed. Their coverage of a previous story may expose them to intimidation. Consequently, the reporters often take efforts to hide their identify.
"Sometimes you cannot reveal your real name and the name of media outlet you represent, hustling to do this, you would be in danger and someone may attack on you," said Gedi.
"While in Mogadishu International Airport covering the arrival of Turkey Prime Minister Ordogan, one government official asked me 'Are you from Horn Cable?.' 'Yes,' I replied, then he pushed me back from the entrance gate, saying 'you will not let getting in' without apparent reason," recounted the journalist.
The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international media watchdog, has listed Somalia as the seventh most deadly nation in the world for journalists.
Armed groups have killed more than 29 media directors, reporters and administrators since 1992, including nine in 2009.
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