Somalia: Radio stations bow to Islamist ban on music

The Guardian

A majority of radio stations in southern and central Somalia today stopped playing music and jingles, to comply with a ban by Islamist militants. Hizbul Islam, one of the two main insurgent forces in Somalia, issued the order on 3 April, saying music broadcasts violated Islamic principles. It gave FM radio stations – the main form of news and entertainment in the country – 10 days to comply or be shut down. Islamic groups have previously outlawed music in some areas under their control, along with beards, football, movies, women's beauty salons and bras. The latest ban on all tunes – including those used in commercials – appears to be the most widely applied yet, and indicative of the rebels' ability to instil fear.

In the capital, Mogadishu, where there are 16 FM radio stations, only the government-controlled Radio Mogadishu, which is protected by African Union peacekeepers, and the UN-funded Radio Bar-Kulan, whose studio is in Nairobi, resisted the order.

"I've listened to three of my regular stations today, and there's no music at all," said Abdulkadir Khalif, a Mogadishu resident. "There's not even a jingle."

Instead, some stations used birdsong or vehicle noises to introduce programmes. One of the broadcasters aired "a recording from a warzone" to signal the start of the news, as an ironic gesture, Khalif said.

The sounds of war are not difficult to record in Mogadishu. At least 19 people were killed there yesterday in fighting between insurgent and forces allied to the government, which controls just a few blocks of the capital. A children's school and a United Nations compound were hit by rebel shelling, while retaliatory fire struck the market and residential areas, the UN said.

Hizbul Islam and its bigger rival and sometime ally, al-Shabaab, control much of south and central Somalia, alhough their support among ordinary people is limited. The music ban is likely to be highly unpopular, since many Somalis enjoy listening to pop songs and more traditional compositions.

But the radio station owners – even those broadcasting from outside rebel-held areas – would have felt they had no option but to comply. Numerous Somali journalists, particularly those working for radio, have been assassinated in recent years.

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

Control of the airwaves appears to be a clear priority of the insurgents. Last week Shabaab leaders banned the BBC and the Voice of America, which have large audiences in Somalia, accusing them of being anti-Muslim and of bias towards the government. Five FM relay stations were closed, silencing the stations for all listeners who do not have shortwave radios.

Tuesday 13 April 2010 18.07 BST