The Somali Community and the Twin Cities Mainstream Media: Towards a More Perfect Union?

by Nelima

Frustrations and suggestions were exchanged at a panel discussion on the portrayal of the Somali community by the media. The accusations in the media that the Abubakar mosque was connected to the missing Somali men, seemed to be the cause of the community’s resentment towards and mistrust of the media.

Somali Community frustrations:

  • Media presenting a one-sided view in only consulting Omar Jamal.
  • Media insensitivity towards Imams, who are respected leaders in their community and mosques, which are the most important institutions in their community.
  • Language used in their reporting, this article from NPR was referenced for the descriptions of the Imam’s dyed beard and the youth directors thumbs and other descriptions.
  • Media covering only ‘compelling negative stories’ and not equally ‘compelling positive stories’ about the community.
  • Media lack of empathy in not realizing the negative impact of their stories.
  • Asked media to do a background check on their sources before using them.

Media’s frustrations and defense:

  • Somali community’s unwillingness to return phone calls, leaving them with the story of only the people that do (read Omar Jamal). Duchense Drew of the Star Tribune said, “For every source we reported there are  50 others who couldn’t be quoted, we’re working really hard.”
  • They have reported positive Somali stories, but if the community has more they should reach out to the media. Laura Yuen from MPR cited a story on a girls Muslim soccer team.
  • Julia  Opoti (Nekessa) from Mshale also acknowledged the difficulties of getting a quotable source, but encouraged media to engage the community more and also verify information with African media. Laura Yuen talked about how her contact list in the community grew from 2 to about 30 since December when she first started covering the Somali community.

My observations:

This was a great conversation that came at a bad time because there’s a lot of resentment towards the media in light of their recent reporting. However, better late than never. While I understand the frustrations of not getting a quoted source (I have experienced it when covering events in the community), I disagree with the notion that Somali’s will not talk to the media. If Ms. Yuen was able to get so connected in less than three months then no one else has an excuse.

Other avenues that the media can use to get connected with the community (and other ethnic communities) is through their blogs. Also irrespective of deadlines no TV station should use a video that they haven’t translated, that is irresponsible. Maybe the mainstream media has been working hard, but whatever they are doing is not working. If they tried to change their approach it may get easier. Furthermore, they will have to work with the Somali community in reporting positive stories. While the story on the girls soccer team was great, a story that would have garnered more appreciation would have been the story on Somalis in Minnesota celebrating the election of a new president in Somalia. Basically they would have to try to think like the Somalis or at least have strong contacts who do.

The Somali community will also have to be more forthcoming with stories and learn how to work the American media. In Kenya we say that “Empty debes (buckets) make the most noise” and in America the one who makes the most noise gets heard. There has to be a change in the way Africans think with regards to American media, we have to get them to see our perspective. And that will be a lot of work.

This was just the beginning and many Somalis I spoke to believe that more work has to be done. I didn’t get a chance to find out what the media thought about the dialogue. I hope the two groups will have the patience and persistence to continue to work towards ‘A More Perfect Union’ 🙂 .


2 thoughts on “The Somali Community and the Twin Cities Mainstream Media: Towards a More Perfect Union?

  1. I’ve been following your articles on the recent Somali issue and am glad to see you speak out against Omar Jamal. When CAIR-MN first opened in 2007, the Star Tribune quoted Omar Jamal. His comments were completely false and irresponsible:

    Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center in St. Paul, said he was dismayed by the news. “CAIR pushes issues from the Mideast under the guise that it’s an umbrella organization for all Muslims,” he said. “But it does nothing for Somali Muslims.” Many Somali Muslims are new immigrants who do not have the advanced language skills and education of those here longer, “so they are vulnerable to being influenced by CAIR and MAS [the Muslim American Society], which walk hand in hand,” Jamal said. “You watch, they’ll come in here and start fundraising and it’ll all go toward pro-Middle East causes,…” (Source: Star Tribune)

    I was very surprised to read his quotes because 1) 90% of our civil rights cases involve Somalis, 2) the board is primarily comprised of South Asian individuals, not Arabs 3) all of our fundraising stays in Minnesota and goes towards our civil rights work and 4) MAS and CAIR are two separate organizations who collaborate on exactly one event per year, the Muslim Day on the Hill.

    The amount of inaccurate information his quotes contained showed me that he was a dangerous and irresponsible person. I am shocked that it took this long for the media to realize that Jamal is agenda-driven and does not represent the Somali community.

    Just look at how he goes from “we have nothing, no clear evidence connecting those kids to the mosque” to “someone at the mosque was getting into the minds of these kids” in just two months! He is not a credible person.

    Star Tribune: Somalis’ holy trip ends at airport (November 30, 2008 )

    Rather, he said, he believes that the rumors about the mosque are an attempt by some in the community to tarnish its image. It’s not unlike the division and infighting that has been going on in Somalia for decades, he said.Omar Jamal, executive director of the Somali Justice Advocacy Center, said that on Monday, his organization will write a letter to the FBI asking for more information about why the men were not allowed to board their flight.Jamal acknowledged that many rumors are circulating, but he said: “We have nothing, no clear evidence connecting those kids to the mosque. That is why I am concerned.”

    Newsweek: Recruited For Jihad? (January 24, 2009)

    The disappearances have focused unwanted attention on Abubakar and sown tensions within the community. To date, no one has produced evidence that recruiting was underway at any mosque in the city. But several of the young men who left their homes attended prayers and youth programs at Abubakar, and some family members and community organizers believe there’s a connection. The most outspoken of them is Omar Jamal, who runs the Somali Justice Advocacy Center. “Someone at the mosque was getting into the minds of these kids,” he says.

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