As he straddles the line between being a social pioneer and traditional patriarch, Osman hews to his original vision of using public television as a means to educate Somali people. When he first aired Somali TV in 1997, Osman already had two years of experience as a teacher and a Somali interpreter at Hennepin County Medical Center. A former USAID employee in Somalia, he says he saw the need to reach more than five or six Somalis a day with important cultural and health information. That's when he learned about MTN, a moment he describes as "guidance from Allah."
Since then, Somali TV has been imitated by countless other public access shows, many of which are produced by Somalis who used to work directly for Osman. According to Osman, many Somalis living in Minneapolis subscribe to cable just so that they can view these MTN programs and some hard-to-find music videos. (Committed fans of cable access--what a country!) What's more, he reports that tapes of Somali TV have turned up in pirate video shops and markets all around the world, from London, England, to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. While struggling to expand his broadcast in the metro area, he hopes to bring Somali TV to audiences worldwide via the internet. Perhaps one day he will return to his homeland, he says, if only to do a video project for MTN.
Back in the editing room later in the week, Osman splices together bits and pieces of songs and interviews, recorded weeks earlier. Close to polishing off his 49th program, he recalls the moment when he truly appreciated what he and his collaborators could do through television.
"In March 2002, after the Minneapolis police shot Abu Jeilani on Franklin and Chicago, there was a big demonstration at city hall," he says. "We were there right along with all the big news stations. We were taking on the whole story and we were proud of doing that for Somalis, fighting for many communities."
Osman returns then to the editing board, becoming at once absorbed in the bit-by-bit process of creating television. He points out that this pending episode is set in a popular Somali restaurant on Lake Street where, like a young East African Jay Leno, host Mohamud Mas'Adde jokingly quizzes patrons on Somali history and politics. As Osman winds back the footage, he cracks a smile. "Sometimes, I look up and see it is very late in the night and they tell me, 'Osman, you are still here? We are closing. Time to go.'"