Media bias: Seeing the Yemeni war from Sana'a-based vantage point

Media bias: Seeing the Yemeni war from Sana'a-based vantage point



By Yaseen Khaled

For nearly four years, most of the English language media outlets, mainly western ones, have been covering Yemen's conflict largely from the vantage point of the Houthis.

One of the aspects of the bias is seeing this war between the government and the Houthis from the Sana'a-based vantage point, particularly that of city's de facto Houthi authority, while ignoring the vast rest of Yemen.  

The capital city is 390 sq kilometers out of Yemen's area of 527,970 sq kilometers. Its inhabitants at the most are 3,937,500 of Yemen's 28.25 million people. Most of them are silently suffering under the organization's repression.

Where the war and its concomitant miseries have been playing out for years is very far from Sana'a, mostly hundreds of kilometers away.

Yemen's only besieged city, Taiz, is one such key flashpoint where civilians are caught in the crossfire and lose their lives, livelihoods, limbs  and homes on a daily basis.

From Sana'a, the extremists continually keep sending troops and arms in a nearly 262 kilometer long (12-hour) journey southward to this city to reinforce the strangling blockade around it.

Taiz and other cities where hostilities are perpetuated by the Houthi invaders are completely ignored in the materials that the western media produce on Yemen every day.

One form of the bias is these outlets limit the travel assignments of their correspondents in Yemen to Sana'a and other territories of Houthi influence.

Throughout the four years of the war, rarely has a correspondent of any of these newspapers and websites taken the risk to report from the dangerous cities, where Houthis are shelling and bombarding.  

Ironically, such journalists whip up the emotions of sympathy exclusively for "Sana'a." In line with the exact Houthi perspective.  

A case-in-point of this twisted journalism is a report published by Helen Lackner under the title "Prospects for Yemen in 2019 and beyond" on Open Democracy online platform.

The report is slanted to reflect a multiplicity of misleading Houthi views and no one has the time to address them all. But I want to focus on one of the angles of this bias.

Like almost all reports that western journalists produce on Yemen, the report uses, as its most important element, a picture that serves the Houthi agenda.

A boy who is standing at Sana'a airport reportedly waiting to receive the UN envoy Martin Griffiths is demonstrating, on a large paper, the Arabic message "I am sick, I need to travel, lift the blockade on Sana'a airport on it" and English phrase "End Yemen Siege."

Addressing the inadequacies of the Stockholm meeting and agreement of 13 December between the government and Houthis, the report says:

"The meeting failed to agree on two other major issues: the opening of Sana’a airport, a demand of the population throughout the northern part of the country [Huthi and non-Huthi controlled areas alike] and discussion of the UN Special Envoy’s ‘framework for negotiations’."

As evident from the picture and the text, the report's disappointment emanates from nothing other than the non-opening of Sana'a Airport which Houthis want to use for military purposes. It ignores the fact that the meeting failed to agree on lifting the Houthi siege on Taiz, the more dire humanitarian catastrophe that Houthis have no concerns to lift within minutes except their willingness to maintain forever a collective punishment on its two million population for their pro-government attitudes.   

But for the airport, it is not the only conduit for humanitarian and commercial goods into Sana'a.

Unlike the people in the areas the Houthis besiege, the people in Houthi-held areas have never suffered a blockade on humanitarian and commercial goods from the country's seaports, both the ones under their control or the government's control.

They can also travel in and out of the country using the government-administered airports absolutely freely and equally like all other Yemeni people from other areas.

The government and the Arab Coalition are not objecting to lifting the blockade of the airport should it come within a comprehensive peace deal, an idea which Houthis are at odds with.   

Lackner ignores that the Houthis have a past of using the Sana'a Airport to smuggle in Iranian arms.

Most importantly she should know that the Houthis, being an noverly authoritarian and skeptical regime, will not allow a boy to step into the airport to demonstrate any form of message, even a favorable one, if that comes from the boy's own initiative.

At the end I would like Lackner to have a look at this picture of a shop in Sana'a . It is a more casual scene than the one she promoted in her misleading article.

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