From Bush House to Hargeisa

Friday 2 March 2012, 19:28

Kirsty Cockburn Kirsty Cockburn Director of Communications and Fundraising, BBC Media Action

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A huge white tent landed in the Bush House courtyard in London over the past week. Its arrival marked the 80th anniversary of BBC World Service and there were events all week. It has been an all-singing, all-dancing, and all-broadcasting affair involving colleagues from across language services and other departments. Our own Emily LeRoux-Rutledge, a Research Manager for BBC Media Action, was one of the singers participating in pop-up performances that appeared across the building. It was like a mini WOMAD: a Brazilian chorus in one corner, a ska band in the club; it would have been no surprise to step into a lift and be serenaded there too. A building singing its heart out is a great thing to hear, but it is also a swan song, as Bush House is being vacated over the coming months.

So it has been especially fitting that the events have been dotted around the venerable building, from marble staircase to former shopping arcade. There’s a moving film sharing the voices of colleagues across BBC World Service.

BBC World Service is moving to join its domestic news colleagues in Broadcasting House. And we at BBC Media Action will be moving too. In June we head to west London to the complex of BBC buildings known as White City. The BBC kindly provides office accommodation to us as a gift-in-kind.

Although we are an independent charity BBC Media Action shares with the BBC strong partnerships, a common heritage, and the same values. Part of the 80th celebrations focused on a day of live broadcasts from the big tent. The Somali service were one set of colleagues taking a turn in the marquee. It is just one of the language services we work in partnership with. BBC Media Action’s Diana Njeru, who appears in one of the My Media Action films, is based in Kenya but her work focuses on Somalia. There our work combines both radio broadcasts and journalism training.

It is a challenging country to work in and that’s where media has an edge. From neighbouring Kenya and the BBC Global News office in Nairobi that we share, broadcasts are relayed through to the Somali service in London. Both London and Nairobi hubs in turn link to our BBC Media Action office in Hargeisa where a team of dedicated professionals produce content from their studio and conduct research and training work to support local media and to interact with audiences.

As Diana says in her film there is a new sense of hope in the country, but it is a precarious place. Diana told me of a producer who had been kidnapped and tortured just because he was a journalist. He was held captive for a week, traumatised by the event, but after release he went back to work. He knows his work is important. In another kidnapping a journalism mentor we work with was harassed at an Al Shabaab (the militant Islamist Group) check-point for the seemingly arbitrary reason that he didn’t have a beard. It’s one of the world’s most dangerous places to be a journalist and so to work in the media takes courage.

At the recent London Somalia Conference held in London (23 February) attended by senior global figures including US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, the UK’s International Development Secretary Andrew Mitchell said: “What we need to do is assist a political process from the bottom not imposed from the outside so that people in Somalia can see it is genuinely to their advantage.”

One of BBC Media Action’s projects develops the skills of journalists to report on the draft constitution.  We have also recently published a Policy Briefing about the role of media in Somalia.

Diana’s focus is journalism training, and she sees how the work can build skills, even in a country so fragile. In addition to broadcasting through the Somali Service we are working directly with radio stations in the country offering training.

Diana told me: “We are helping journalists report responsibly. I have seen how much they appreciate the training and equipment. It has enabled them both to report to the people of Somalia but also to see that the outside world cares. Before they thought that people didn’t care – but now they’ve been given confidence.”

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