A new independent audience survey commissioned by the UN’s Integrated Regional Information Networks (IRIN) shows that 72 percent of Somali radio listeners in Somalia and the refugee camps in Kenya listen regularly, if not daily, to IRIN Radio’s Somali service.
IRIN Radio broadcasts a one-hour programme of humanitarian information in Somali direct to Somalia and the Somali-speaking region every day on shortwave. The programme is rebroadcast by several local FM radio stations in Somalia, northeastern Kenya and Nairobi, where there is a large Somali-speaking community. The main purpose of the survey was to assess the reach of IRIN Radio’s Somali service and to evaluate audience opinion of its programming.
The survey, conducted by Mogadishu-based firm Organizational Development and Community Empowerment Firm (ODCEF), drew on interviews using a standard questionnaire. A total of 781 respondents were surveyed in seven Somali regions (Bari, Mudug, Galgudud, Hiran, Benadir, Lower Shabelle, and Bay), as well as in Hagadera and Dadaab refugee camps in northeastern Kenya, and Nairobi.
The results indicate that IRIN Radio’s listening figures peaked at above 80 percent in the rural areas of Mudug and Galgadug, where people are reliant on shortwave as local FM services do not reach them, and in the refugee camps.
“The research team noted that society feels at peace with IRIN Radio,” ODCEF’s report concluded. “IRIN Radio has been seen by all of its listeners as a valuable and listenable radio which instills in all Somali people a sense of humanity and empathy. It is also regarded as a great initiative, as it reveals the actual and overall humanitarian situation which unfolds daily on the ground in Somalia, especially for the people escaping from the war, in dire difficulties and in need of assistance.”
Two hundred respondents in different areas were questioned more closely in focus group discussions on what they like or do not like about IRIN Radio. Listeners appeared to value IRIN for its focus on humanitarian and social issues - something they find relatively infrequently in other sources. Many listeners commented that they particularly enjoy IRIN’s debates and discussion programmes and socially-aware radio dramas.
Radio is extremely popular among Somalis. Mogadishu alone has some 16 radio stations. But the Somali media scene has taken a bashing over the last 4-5 years, and being the primary source of news and information, radio has, of course, come off worst. Seven of the nine Somali journalists killed in 2009 were known because of their radio work.
Somalis reacted with a characteristic mix of outrage and humour when Islamist insurgent groups imposed a ban on 13 April on music on the airwaves. Most Mogadishu radios complied out of fear, with some using animal noises to fill the void.
Independent media is still in its infancy in Somalia, emerging in 1991 as civil war put an end to state control. There is currently no national radio. Local media accuracy and impartiality have been inevitable early victims of the ongoing instability. Many Somalis twiddle the dial on their radio sets to tune in to as many local sources - and often crackly foreign transmissions - as possible, seeking to jigsaw together an idea of what is really going on in the country or their locality.