Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Hardline Somali Militants Ban Music on Radio


April 13, 2010
Somali Radio Stations Halt Music

MOGADISHU, Somalia — At least 14 radio stations here in the capital stopped broadcasting music on Tuesday, heeding an ultimatum by an Islamist insurgent group to stop playing songs or face “serious consequences.”

The threat left radio stations scrambling to scrub even the briefest suggestion of music from their daily programming. “Bam! Bam! Bam!” — the sound of gunshots that Somalis in Mogadishu have grown accustomed to hearing — was played by Radio Shabelle on its news broadcast to replace the music it usually uses to introduce the segment.

Similarly odd sounds — like the roar of an engine, a car horn, animal noises and the sound of water flowing — were used to introduce programs on some of the other radio stations that stopped playing music.

“We have replaced the music of the early morning program with the sound of the rooster, replaced the news music with the sound of the firing bullet and the music of the night program with the sound of running horses,” said Osman Abdullahi Gure, the director of Radio Shabelle radio and television, one of the most influential stations in Mogadishu.

“It was really a crush,” he said. “We haven’t had time to replace all the programs at one time; instead, we have chosen these sounds.”

The insurgent group, Hizbul Islam, issued its ultimatum 10 days ago and set Tuesday as the deadline to comply, saying that music was “un-Islamic.” In other parts of the country, insurgents have taken over or shut down some radio stations. Last week, the Shabab, the country’s most powerful insurgent group, said it was banning foreign programs like those broadcast by the BBC and Voice of America, calling them Western propaganda that violated Islam.

The radio stations that stopped playing music on Tuesday are based in both insurgent and government-controlled areas of the ruined capital. Those located in insurgent-held territory seemed to have little alternative, but some of the managers at stations in government-controlled territory argued that the lack of security and the loss of advertising income led them to comply as well.

Somalia, crippled by years of unrest and the lack of a powerful central government, is one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist.

“Mogadishu media has become a defenseless victim that is exposed to all sorts of oppression, abuse and brutality,” said Omar Faruk Osman, the secretary general of the National Union of Somali Journalists, in a statement published on the group’s Web site. Nine journalists were killed in 2009 in Somalia, according to a report published on the site.

The transitional government, which has been weakened by constant attacks, roadside bombs and suicide bombers, controls only a few enclaves of Mogadishu with the support of the African Union peacekeepers.

“The government cannot guarantee our security, and we have to make our first priority the safety and security of our employees,” said Abdirashid Abdulle, director of the newly established radio station Tusmo, which is based in Hamarjajab, a government-controlled area.

Many residents expressed dismay at the new restrictions. “We are really losing all hope of life,” said Hashi Abdullahi, who said he liked to listen to music. The insurgents have “punished our life with bullets, and today they are punishing us with a ban on all types of music,” he said.

Many also worried about getting accurate and balanced news after learning that the radio stations followed the orders of the insurgent groups.

“I think that this was a test to terrorize the media in Mogadishu, and it’s seems like a justification to confiscate the radio stations that fail to comply with the order in the areas under their control,” said Ugaas Mohamed Bashir, vice chairman of the Somali Traditional Elders Council.

At least two radio stations did not heed the ban. The government-owned Radio Mogadishu and another station, Radio Bar-Kulan, which is mostly produced in Kenya, continued playing music.


Hardline Somali militants ban music on airwaves


Tuesday, April 13, 2010 at 9:23 a.m.

MOGADISHU, Somalia — Rock, rap and love songs once filled the airwaves in Somalia's war-torn capital, one of the few pleasures residents had. But Islamist militants ordered music off the air Tuesday, labeling it un-Islamic in a hardline edict reminiscent of the Taliban.

Stations immediately complied, fearful that disc jockeys would face the harsh punishment militants mete out here: amputations and stonings. The edict is the latest unpopular order from the Islamists, who also have banned bras, musical ringtones and movies.

More than a dozen radio stations complied with the order by the militant group Hizbul Islam, the National Union of Somali Journalists said.

"Journalists working in these stations have in the past witnessed broad daylight assassination of their colleagues and have now been signaled that they would follow the same fate if they do not obey these oppressive orders," said the union's secretary-general, Omar Faruk Osman.

Somalia has a tradition of music and most residents greeted the ban with dismay. Rock, rap and love songs from the U.S., Europe and Africa could be heard on Somali stations before the ban.

"Now I think we are going to be forced to hear only the horrific sounds of the gunfire and the explosions," said Khadiya Omar, a 22-year-old Mogadishu resident who called music a "tranquilizer" to help him forget life's troubles.

Somalis in the country's capital can still listen to music on two stations: one that the government controls and another that is funded by the United Nations. Both stations are based in the small area of Mogadishu under the control of government and African Union forces. Similar edicts have been imposed on stations in the southern Somali regions held by the Islamist group al-Shabab.

Somalia has not had an effective government for 19 years. Thousands of civilians have died in violence-wracked Mogadishu in a conflict that has intensified the last three years and the U.N. estimates some 100,000 people have been displaced in the capital this year alone.

Islamic insurgents control much of Mogadishu and have been trying to topple the country's fragile, U.N.-backed government.

The music ban went into effect one day after fighting between the Somali government and Islamist insurgents killed 21 people in Mogadishu.

"We are in a war-ravaged country and music is what brings us relief from anger, frustration, depression, fatigue and other emotional and physical pain," said Isaq Ali, a Mogadishu resident.

The U.N. humanitarian coordinator for Somalia, Mark Bowden, said Tuesday he was worried about the plight of civilians in the capital, the principal victims of the fighting. In March, more than 30 civilians were killed and 900 wounded in fighting, Bowden said. More than 100 of the injuries were children under age 5.

The deputy chairman of the Somali Foreign Correspondents Association, Mohamed Ibrahim Nur, condemned the music ban and called for Hizbul Islam to retract the order.

"This will paralyze the already violence-affected media in Somalia and will deprive Somalis from getting independent information free from threat, censorship and imposition of radical addicts," he said.

Any station that defies the order could face severe punishments. The Islamists frequently assassinate those who defy them or carry out punishments like amputations. Abdulahi Yasin Jama at Tusmo broadcasting said that stations have no choice but to comply.

"We had no other option but to stop playing music. Now that we have dropped music we may lose listeners. If we ignore the warning we have to face the wrath of the militants," said one of Mogadishu's radio directors, who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal attacks.

The director noted that the station also would have to re-record all of its commercials that contain music.

The order to stop the music echoes the Taliban's strict social rules imposed on Afghans beginning in the late 1990s. The Taliban banned music and movies and didn't allow women to leave their homes without an escort by a male family member.

The ban on music means that even talk-radio stations will have to make changes. Jama, from the independent broadcaster, said his station would have to stop using music as a bridge between programs.

"We are using other sounds, such as gunfire, the noise of vehicles and birds to link up our programs and news," he said.

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