The long-running conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran reached new heights this week after the kingdom severed diplomatic relations with Tehran.

The diplomatic rupture, which has heightened tensions in the Middle East, came after Saudi executed 47 people on January 2, including a prominent Shia cleric - Nimr al-Nimr.

Within hours of the death sentence being carried out, Iranian protesters ransacked the Saudi embassy in Tehran and started fires.

Iranian media had depicted Nimr as a peaceful dissident, and the execution as a provocative act. In Saudi Arabia, the national security narrative prevailed - Nimr's execution was justified as part of its "war on terrorism". 

The coverage in both countries and the international media, has since played up a sectarian divide - one that pits Sunni versus Shia - however this simplified binary fails to address the larger geopolitical issues involved.

Talking us through this geopolitical media battle are: Mohammed Alyahya, research fellow at the Gulf Research Centre; Borzou Daragahi, the Middle East correspondent for BuzzFeed News; journalist and author Azadeh Moaveni; and Salman Aldossary, editor-in-chief of the Saudi Asharq Al-Aswat newspaper.


Other stories on our radar this week: In Bangladesh, a court sentences two men to death for the murder of a secular blogger back in 2013; after nearly four months in a Turkish prison, Vice News journalist Mohammed Rasool has been released on bail; in Poland, the passing of a new media law has prompted resignations from senior journalists and complaints from press freedom groups and China has expelled a French journalist amid accusations that her article supported terrorism.


US elections and 'horse race journalism'

In the US, the race for the White House is well under way and some news outlets have succumbed to syndrome known as "horse race journalism". This is when journalists focus on candidates' polling positions rather than their policies.

This coverage can leave voters uninformed, however for candidates doing well in the polls this can mean a lot of free publicity.

News editors tend to devote more airtime and column inches to whoever the polls say are leading the race.

The Listening Post's Will Yong looks at the use of polls in the US presidential election and what gets lost when outlets crunch the numbers more than they do proper journalism.


In the first few weeks of the year the gym can get rather crowded with all the people trying to achieve their New Year resolutions of healthier lifestyles and better bodies.

It has become pretty normal human behaviour which may have been the inspiration behind the latest video produced by a US-based health and fitness YouTube channel called Buff Dudes.

The video, narrated in the style of a nature documentary, is called Gym Wildlife and looks at the other kinds of human behaviour on display in gyms. We hope you enjoy the show!

Source: Al Jazeera