This bilingual Somali newspaper is beating the media at its own game

A Somali community in the north of England is using the power of the press to beat the media at its own game. Sick of seeing negative headline after negative headline they decided to publish Sasca News, their own bilingual newspaper, to bring the community closer together.

Many Somalis felt – and still feel – that their portrayal in certain sections of the media as “scroungers” or criminals is grossly unfair and totally unrepresentative. It is not difficult to see why they might not see Britain as the most welcoming country to take refuge in.

As recently as December one newspaper reported how a Somali family had been “given a £2m council house in an exclusive London neighbourhood”. Other examples include: “Mother of girl, 16, who was raped in hotel by three Somali men tells how the attackers’ relatives terrified her throughout the trial” and “How Somalian men are living by their own law …”.

To counter these negative stories, the Somali Voices Project was set up by The Media Trust to show a more balanced picture of the Somali community in the UK – currently numbering in the region of 30,000 in Manchester alone.

Combine this with poverty, lower life chances, poor housing and the additional obstacle of a language barrier and you hear the background noise of odds being stacked against you.

Emergency journalism

In the face of such an onslaught from the mainstream media, and in the absence of a national Somali newspaper, a group of Somalis in Manchester decided to fight back with their own headlines. This is not citizen or community journalism – it is emergency journalism.

The newspaper came together with the help of (Sasca), the Somali Adult Social Care Agency, a charity based in south Manchester which offers advice on jobs, housing education, welfare and benefits. Sasca approached the journalism department at Manchester Metropolitan University to see if it could help in setting up the bilingual community newspaper.

Sasca News is a 12-page paper printed twice a year with the help of journalism students. All stories are published in English and Somali and the paper is “flip designed” to be read from front cover to centre, with six pages of content mirrored in both languages.

An edition of Sasca News. Author provided (No reuse)

The paper has a print run of between 1,000 and 1,500 copies and is delivered by hand to homes, mosques, supermarkets, community centres and libraries around south Manchester.

Journalism tutors and students provide training and support to a small editorial team. Stories range from the impact of benefit cuts to details of GP advice surgeries and what councillors are doing for local residents.

Double Culture Clash

In line with many refugee communities, Somalians face a culture clash both with their host community and within their own communities. A research project carried out in 2014 found that language barriers and misconceptions by the wider community provide a toxic mix for many young Somalis living in the city.

Put simply, many older Somalis felt isolated because of their lack of English and many young Somalis are not aware of their Somali heritage and may not even speak Somali – this is why the bilingual aspect was vital.

Sasca News is now a thriving newspaper and the community even has its first elected Somali councillor, Sharif Mahamed.

The community can also boast about a young Somali reporter named Qalib Barud who is now working for the BBC World Service as a senior broadcast journalist. Barud was inspired by what was happening in his community and decided to go for a career in the media.

The editor and one of his young journalists even travelled to London armed with copies of Sasca News for a conference to show Somali community leaders from around the country what can be done with a little imagination and willpower.

Taking the power back

The current edition has a report on a Somali team from Manchester travelling to mini football Wold Cup in Tunisia, the campaign to prevent FGM, how the community raised more than £4,000 for the victims of the Mogadishu bomb attack, an article about a student raising money to build a hospital in Somalia by climbing Snowdon and the impact of universal credit.

Print costs have been met largely through a city council grant and a Wordpress site acts as a digital counterpart.

Editor Mohammed Wadi said the newspaper had given the Somali community “a voice” and place to look for stories that specifically affect their lives. He also said it was a medium which the Somali youngsters communicate through, as it highlights stories about their achievements.

Sasca News is thought to be the first bilingual Somali newspaper in the UK and certainly a role model for what other communities – not just Somali ones – can do by taking the power of the press into their own hands.