Somalia 2006 – Just another forgotten war on a forgotten continent? A comparative study on the coverage by newspapers in four western countries

Seminar Paper, 2007

22 Pages, Grade: B






What happened in Somalia? – An attempted reconstruction

Theoretical Background: An (al)most similar systems design

Period and object of investigation

More or less – counting articles

No news is good news? Different pictures of the same war

Different Self-conceptions – ‘objective’ journalists or ‘activists’?

Not our cup of coffee? – The wars of ‘others’

Expensive and dangerous – restrictions of war journalism

Conclusion: Is less really more?


Appendix – List of analysed Articles


At Christmas 2006 Ethiopia declared war to Somalian Islamists, in heavy combats thousands of people have been killed within few days. Newspaper readers in some western countries could have expected the war, others might have been surprised. This essay tries to sum up the results of an explorative study on the news coverage in the online editions of four newspapers in four countries. The study analyses the articles about Somalia in the online editions of The Times (London/United Kingdom), Dagens Nyheter (Stockholm/Sweden), Los Angeles Times (United States) and Süddeutsche Zeitung (Munich/Germany) within the calendar year 2006.

Even the first cursory analysis of the articles could show that readers in the four different countries were informed quite differently, every newspaper presented its own (hi)story of the war in Somalia. When the readers of the Los Angeles Times on December 21st have been confronted for the first time with a longer article about the situation in Somalia, Dagens Nyheter since January 2006 had already published 65 articles about Somalia. This essay sums up the most obvious differences in the coverage of the Somalia war, tries to find reasons for the unequal approaches and leads to the question, if it is necessary at all to cover the various ‘wars of others’.


Somalia – news – Africa – war – journalism


‘Declaration of war threatens stability at the Horn of Africa’ (The Times, December 22). Headlines like that led the eyes of the world to Somalia around the Christmas days 2006. Wars in Africa are nothing unusual to western readers, since the ending of the ‘Apartheid’ in South Africa there have not been too many top news from the black continent not dealing with hunger, natural disasters or wars. But then a declaration of war at Christmas. For many people around the world this came unexpectedly and out of nowhere. Generally is true, what Daniela V. Dimitrova and Jesper Strömbäck have assumed (2005: 406):

‚In the age of globalization and advanced communication technologies, what happens in a remote part of the world can quickly reach the local media. Journalists (…) have access to more information resources than before to cover international stories and conflict events (…).’

But Somalia is for many western people just a synonym for chaos: 15 years without an effective government, instead of that powerful warlords and Islamistic regimes. Somalia is one of the African ‘No-Go-Areas’, how journalist Görrel Espelund explained it in her guest lecture at Malmö Högskola on December 19th 2006. Consequently the news flow will be weak, one might think. But still there have been journalists around, working for news agencies, newspapers and TV stations. Some of them delivered stories, predicted this war, summarized all the necessary background information, but only some of their stories made it in the newspapers worldwide. The bigger the differences in coverage are, the more important are comparative studies since, as Dimitrova and Strömbäck (2005: 400) put it:

‚Comparative studies more than single-nation studies have the potential to provide an antidote to naive universalism, to enhance the understanding of one’s own country by placing its familiar characteristics against those of other systems (…).’

Due to temporally and monetary restrictions this study can only be a first step. It starts with a quantitative comparison, and then goes further with the analysis of special events, like the invasion of Somalia by Ethiopian troops. Which sources have been used, had the newspapers own correspondents in Africa or did they just publish wire news?

Of course has to be considered that every country has different policies how to deal with developments in other parts of the world, every newspaper has a different readership and news from Africa have always to compete with countless other news. But even then there might be to a certain degree common sense among journalists in the Western Hemisphere how to deal with an imminent war in Africa.

What happened in Somalia? – An attempted reconstruction

To give a better general overview, the following paragraph tries to sum up the most important political events in Somalia before and within the period of the study. The information is an aggregation of official sources (CIA World Factbook, Auswärtiges Amt der Bundesrepublik Deutschland, International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies) and retrospections in the researched newspapers.

Since the authoritarian socialist regime of Mohamed Siad Barre had been overthrown in 1991, Somalia had no efficient and by all population groups accepted government. According to the CIA World Factbook (CIA 2007)

’Somalia descended into turmoil, factional fighting, and anarchy. In May of 1991, northern clans declared an independent Republic of Somaliland (...). A two-year peace process, led by the Government of Kenya under the auspices of the Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), concluded in October 2004 with the election of Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed as Transitional Federal President of Somalia and the formation of a transitional government, known as the Somalia Transitional Federal Institutions (TFIs). (...) Suspicion of Somali links with global terrorism further complicates the picture.’

The influence of the Transitional National Government (TNG), situated in Baidoa, has always been weak. Half of the country, with the majority of population and the important cities Mogadishu (since June 2006) and Kismayo (since September 2006) had been controlled by the Islamic Courts Union (ICU). In October 2006 the ICU issued a jihad against the government of Ethiopia. In November 2006 the peace talks between the interim government in the North and the Islamists collapsed. In expectation of a civil war, large Ethiopian and Eritrean forces entered into Somalia to back the opposing sides. In December 2006, the Islamist Militia declared war on Ethiopia, and started to attack the Ethiopian forces.

On December 24 Ethiopia declared war on the ICU. Ethiopian forces launched air strikes against Islamist fighters across Somalia.

On December 25 Ethiopians bombed the International airport in Mogadishu. Thanks to the Ethiopian support the TNG re-entered the capital on December 28.

In 2006 serious natural disasters supervened to the complicated political situation. According to the International Federation of Red Cross And Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) are up to 400 000 people affected by the worst floods Somalia has seen in a decade (IFRC 2006).

Theoretical Background: An (al)most similar systems design

Most comparisons of different entities follow either the most similar systems design, or the most different systems design. According to Dimitrova/Strömbäck the most similar systems design ‘make(s) it possible to study differences that exist in systems that otherwise are very similar; that is, the approach stresses cultural differences’ (Dimitrova/Strömbäck 2005: 400). The most different systems design goes the opposite way, analyses and stresses similarities in very different systems.

The study forming the basis of this essay follows to a certain degree the most similar systems design. Of course there are many differences between Sweden, Germany, Great Britain and the United States, and between the newspapers representing them. There are two constitutional monarchies, two federal constitutional republics, there are huge differences in history, culture and policies. Nevertheless, the four countries are modern, wealthy, western democracies with a free press, freedom of travel and access to all the information channels.

Against the background of more or less globalized and synchronised media structures in the Western Hemisphere there is a lot of common sense what is newsworthy and what is not. Most of the news factors Johan Galtung and Mari Holmboe Ruge presented 40 years ago are still valid, e. g. threshold, unexpectedness or reference to elite nations (Galtung/Ruge 1965: 67/68).


Excerpt out of 22 pages


Somalia 2006 – Just another forgotten war on a forgotten continent? A comparative study on the coverage by newspapers in four western countries
Malmö University  (School of Arts and Communication)
Special course: Media War Resistance
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ISBN (eBook)
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437 KB
Somalia, Just, Special, Media, Resistance
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Stefan Fößel (Author), 2007, Somalia 2006 – Just another forgotten war on a forgotten continent? A comparative study on the coverage by newspapers in four western countries, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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