By Kelly Alford
A former Kingston University student has won a prestigious Television Journalism award for Channel 4 News at The Royal Television Society Awards.
“I am happy for everyone who was involved in the making of the story,” said Jamal. “But it was more about these athletes who want to do something positive which you don’t usually see in Somalia. It’s inspirational.”
Somalia-born Jamal, who graduated from Kingston in 2009, beat off other nominees which included the BBC’s film FIFA’s Dirty Secrets.
The story revealed a haunting glimpse into the challenges faced by Somali athletes to get to the Olympic Games when they are constantly under threat of being shot by rebel gunmen or nervous security forces.
“These guys were really determined to achieve something,” said Jamal. “Even if they don’t win a gold medal, to at least make it to the Olympics, while everyone else around is picking up arms and doing bad things, is really important.”
Judges praised the film as a “remarkable project” which was “heart-warming, uplifting and heartbreaking by turn”.
“The winning film showed, in a unique way, the power of human desire to succeed in any circumstances. An admirable venture to tell a story about brave and indomitable athletes.”
Somalia has been without an effective central government since 1991, and years of conflict between rival warlords combined with famine and disease have led to the deaths of up to one million people.
“Many times, at least four or five times the gunmen were shooting at us because of us filming,” said Jamal. “I knew it would be dangerous but I thought this was a story that was worth it.”
Jamal also visited the Somali capital of Mogadishu in his final year of university and won the News Story Prize of the Year at the 2009 Foreign Press Association Awards for his exposé of theft of UN food aid, which showed refugees being forced to pay for aid at gunpoint.
Later that year, Jamal managed to gain exclusive access to interview hostages Paul and Rachel Chandler, who had been kidnapped by Somali pirates whilst sailing of the coast of Indian Ocean just off the Seychelles.
Jamal said that his Somali background and upbringing inspired him to become a journalist.
“As a Somali human being I have always asked myself what my role in this world is,” he said. “As a journalist, I can expose injustices’ and corruptions. That’s the reason I wanted to become a journalist. To help others, if you like.”
Jamal was unable to speak English when he arrived in the UK in 1999, after paying people traffickers to take him to Europe.
He was granted asylum and in 2005 decided to go back to education, working as a minicab driver at weekends, which proved a perfect source of stories and it also improved his English.