The Listening Post

Challenging coverage: The conflict in Yemen

The Yemen conflict and the geopolitics of the coverage; plus, the resurrection of Greece’s state-owned broadcaster.

When a coalition led by Saudi Arabia began bombing Yemen on March 25, 2015, the justification it offered was that the action would stop the spread of the Houthi rebels and bring stability to the country.

The Saudis also claim that the Houthis are being backed, ideologically and materially, by Iran. That assertion has gone largely unchallenged in mainstream news coverage.

The opaque nature of the story in Yemen is largely down to the difficulties that journalists face while trying to report in the country. For foreign journalists, leaving the capital is nearly impossible and local journalists have to constantly navigate the changing power structures within the country.

Analysts are characterising the bombing campaign as proxy war with high stake geopolitics playing out in the Yemeni skies, but what is lacking from that analysis is what is happening on the ground.

Talking us through the story this week: Rami Khoury, director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut; journalist at Al-Araby, Abubakr al-Shamahi; political analyst Hisham Omeisy and journalist and author Thomas Lippman.

Other media stories on our radar this week: The head of the Associated Press has called for the murder or abduction of journalists to be deemed a war crime; another Bangladeshi blogger has been murdered in what looks like a targeted attack; and the president of Canada’s largest media and telecoms conglomerate has apologised after attempting to interfere with news coverage.

Greece: The resurrection of ERT

Nearly two years ago, the Greek government shutdown the country’s state broadcaster ERT in what it claimed was an austerity measure. However, many journalists at the channel called the move political.

They refused to leave the headquarters in Athens and kept broadcasting from the building without pay. The occupation became symbolic in the fight against austerity which in part explains why the newly elected government, Syriza – which won on an anti-austerity campaign – has been so determined to get the channel back on air.

Critics say that the news government was in too much of a hurry and have questioned its draft bill to reinstate ERT, saying that it fails to address previous issues. There is also a legitimate concern over how Syriza plans to fund the state broadcaster and whether the license fee will be enough to rehire the former employees and leave the channel with enough to produce worthwhile content.

The Listening Post‘s Nicholas Muirhead travelled to Athens to look at Syriza’s plans to resurrect the state broadcaster.

While researching our lead package this week, we came across a blog that initially looked like click bait but in fact made some important – albeit satirical – points about the coverage of Yemen by mainstream media. It is entitled “The Confused Person’s Guide to Understanding Yemen” and was written not by a Yemeni journalist or foreign policy specialist, but by an architect from Lebanon, Karl Sharro. When it comes to occasionally dysfunctional countries riven by factional politics, the Lebanese do have some expertise to offer. And they are familiar with media outlets oversimplifying, in a banal way, stories that aren’t that simple. We brought in an actor – Talal Karkouti – to bring Sharro’s blog post to life.