Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

Mogadishu and the UK press: should Somalia’s worst terror attack be higher up the agenda?

How the British media responded to at least 300 people being killed in Somalia’s capital.

On Saturday night in Somalia’s capital, Mogadishu, a double truck bombing on a downtown street became the country’s worst ever terror attack.

The blast, blamed by security officials on the militant group al-Shabaab, has killed at least 300 people and the number of casualties, at 500, continues to rise.

The country has been at civil war since the Eighties, but it has never experienced a terrorist attack as deadly as this. It is also thought to be one of the world’s largest terror attacks since 9/11.

The scale and horror of the attack has led many online to scrutinise the reaction of the British media. There has been coverage of the attack this morning. The Guardian splashed on it, and the BBC Radio 4 Today programme ran an interview with their senior Africa correspondent Anne Soy near the top of the show at 6.13am, though the story dropped off later bulletins.

But none of the other national papers ran the story on their front pages, and some readers criticised the UK press response:

It is common for western press coverage of terrorist attacks, atrocities and natural disasters outside of Europe and the US to be criticised for double-standards and racism in their editorial priorities. While a national media organisation’s news agenda must focus on its country’s priorities and the interests of its audience, it can still be jarring for readers and audiences to contrast the coverage of 300 people being killed in Mogadishu with, say, the response to the most recent attack in Barcelona.

While the difficulty – in terms of both safety and resources – of working in countries at war like Somalia and Yemen can hinder the depth of reporting, there are undoubtedly places that draw more attention than others. Syria, for example, is a tough place for journalists to visit – but that hasn’t stopped most of the world’s major news organisations stationing teams in Beirut to cover the crisis from there.

“Of course, the domestic agenda is the primary one,” says Martin Plaut, who was Africa editor of BBC World Service News from 2003-2012. “This is not a position I sympathise with, but imagine it from the editorial perspective: I think the problem is really that it [the Mogadishu attack] has got the ‘so what?’ factor. If this was a peaceful place in the world, in which a bomb explosion of this magnitude was a surprise, then perhaps they would’ve been more motivated to cover it.”

Does he believe African stories are high up enough on the British news agenda? “I would always say no,” he says. “I’ve worked on Africa since the 1970s and it’s my patch, so I would never be happy with where it is [on the UK news agenda]. My whole aim as the Africa editor was always to not only inform the African audience but to drive the African agenda and African stories up the British news agenda. I saw that as one of my key responsibilities.”

Although the lack of a British angle to this story may have held back some editors, Plaut says that – if he were pitching the story – he’d point out that David Cameron “held a critical summit for Somalia” in London in 2013. “The whole basis of the peace agreement in Somalia was hammered in the city,” he says. Other angles could involve how much the UK spends in aid on Somalia, and its own Somali audience.

“There is a strong connection. And there is an interest in the country,” he adds. “We have a lot of Somalis who live here, and we have a duty to keep them informed.”

Anoosh Chakelian is senior writer at the New Statesman.

Show Hide image

Labour’s renationalisation plans look nothing like the 1970s

The Corbynistas are examining models such as Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and John Lewis. 

A community energy company in Nottingham, a credit union in Oldham and, yes, Britain's most popular purveyor of wine coolers. No, this is not another diatribe about about consumer rip-offs. Quite the opposite – this esoteric range of innovative companies represent just a few of those which have come to the attention of the Labour leadership as they plot how to turn the abstract of one of their most popular ideas into a living, neo-liberal-shattering reality.

I am talking about nationalisation – or, more broadly, public ownership, which was the subject of a special conference this month staged by a Labour Party which has pledged to take back control of energy, water, rail and mail.

The form of nationalisation being talked about today at the top of the Labour Party looks very different to the model of state-owned and state-run services that existed in the 1970s, and the accompanying memories of delayed trains, leaves on the line and British rail fruitcake that was as hard as stone.

In John McDonnell and Jeremy Corbyn’s conference on "alternative models of ownership", the three firms mentioned were Robin Hood Energy in Nottingham, Oldham credit union and, of course, John Lewis. Each represents a different model of public ownership – as, of course, does the straightforward takeover of the East Coast rail line by the Labour government when National Express handed back the franchise in 2009.

Robin Hood is the first not-for-profit energy company set up a by a local authority in 70 years. It was created by Nottingham city council and counts Corbyn himself among its customers. It embodies the "municipal socialism" which innovative local politicians are delivering in an age of austerity and its tariffs delivers annual bills of £1,000 or slightly less for a typical household.

Credit unions share many of the values of community companies, even though they operate in a different manner, and are owned entirely by their customers, who are all members. The credit union model has been championed by Labour MPs for decades. 

Since the financial crisis, credit unions have worked with local authorities, and their supporters see them as ethical alternatives to the scourge of payday loans. The Oldham credit union, highlighted by McDonnell in a speech to councillors in 2016, offers loans from £50 upwards, no set-up costs and typically charges interest of around £75 on a £250 loan repaid over 18 months.

Credit unions have been transformed from what was once seen as a "poor man's bank" to serious and tech-savvy lenders where profits are still returned to customers as dividends.

Then there is John Lewis. The "never-knowingly undersold" department store is owned by its 84,000 staff, or "partners". The Tories have long cooed over its pledge to be a "successful business powered by its people and principles" while Labour approves of its policy of doling out bonuses to ordinary staff, rather than just those at the top. Last year John Lewis awarded a partnership bonus of £89.4m to its staff, which trade website Employee Benefits judged as worth more than three weeks' pay per person (although still less than previous top-ups).

To those of us on the left, it is a painful irony that when John Lewis finally made an entry into politics himself – in the shape of former managing director Andy Street – it was to seize the Birmingham mayoralty ahead of Labour's Sion Simon last year. (John Lewis the company remains apolitical.)

Another model attracting interest is Transport for London, currently controlled by Labour mayor Sadiq Khan. TfL may be a unique structure, but nevertheless trains feature heavily in the thinking of shadow ministers, whether Corbynista or soft left. They know that rail represents their best chance of quick nationalisation with public support, and have begun to spell out how it could be delivered.

Yes, the rhetoric is blunt, promising to take back control of our lines, but the plan is far more gradual. Rather than risk the cost and litigation of passing a law to cancel existing franchises, Labour would ask the Department for Transport to simply bring routes back in-house as each of the private sector deals expires over the next decade.

If Corbyn were to be a single-term prime minister, then a public-owned rail system would be one of the legacies he craves.

His scathing verdict on the health of privatised industries is well known but this month he put the case for the opposite when he addressed the Conference on Alternative Models of Ownership. Profits extracted from public services have been used to "line the pockets of shareholders" he declared. Services are better run when they are controlled by customers and workers, he added. "It is those people not share price speculators who are the real experts."

It is telling, however, that Labour's radical election manifesto did not mention nationalisation once. The phrase "public ownership" is used 10 times though. Perhaps it is a sign that while the leadership may have dumped New Labour "spin", it is not averse to softening its rhetoric when necessary.

So don't look to the past when considering what nationalisation and taking back control of public services might mean if Corbyn made it to Downing Street. The economic models of the 1970s are no more likely to make a comeback then the culinary trends for Blue Nun and creme brûlée.

Instead, if you want to know what public ownership might look like, then cast your gaze to Nottingham, Oldham and dozens more community companies around our country.

Peter Edwards was press secretary to a shadow chancellor, editor of LabourList and a parliamentary candidate in 2015 and 2017.