Somali TV

Most aficionados of public-access television go for some combination of kitsch, zealotry, oddity, or, preferably, all of the above. While you'll encounter all that and more while surfing the many stations of the Minneapolis Telecommunications Network (MTN), you may overlook what has earned MTN the public-access medal of honor. Through its three main channels, the network broadcasts community programming in a surprising number of languages. Top honors go to Somali TV, a pioneering immigrant program that is still a staple of the Somali community. But scores of other shows, from Vietnamese Minnesotans TV to Zona Latina offer immigrants in the Twin Cities both community journalism and a cultural outlet. In the mid-1990s, a number of Somalis learned basic video production through MTN courses and word spread from there. (To date, MTN has trained some 37 Somalis in video production.) For some, public access is an early, inspiring lesson in democracy and free media. As longtime MTN producer, Tarek "JC" Bagdadi, recently told us, "How can we tell that this country is still democratic? The first thing a dictator may do is close down public access." In other words, if you can still tune in the TV to find East African men lip-synching in Oromo, our First Amendment rights are safe for now.


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