A film by Hala Al-Qalisi, Abdulhakeem Al-Bokaiti and Alexandra Amanatidou (2021)
Supervised by: Dr. Abdulrahman Al-Shami
Including Interviews with Dr. Samiah Al-Aghbry,
Professor for Journalism at Sana’a University
Abd Albari Taher, Journalist
Mohammed Al-Mayahi, Journalist
Ashraf Al-Refi, Secretary of the Press Syndicate
Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid! Do not be afraid!
War always wants the bullet to replace the word. This polarization damaged media pluralism and hit it dead. War consumes everything. Journalism and politics are two sides of the same coin.
Yemen has suffered since ancient times from the scourge of various wars due to its geographical location that overlooks a major global trade route. Of course, the media was the first to be affected by this. Yemen has not witnessed a real indedendent media since its beginning and throughout its various ages, it has been nothing but mouthpieces for governments. Authoritarian regimes are what drives it so far…
Yemeni unity was declared in 1990, after which the state began its democratic experiment and the party press appeared. From 1990 until 1994, before the 1994 war, there was a large margin of freedom, as more than 130 journalists and magazines were established in Yemen, including partisan and civil newspapers. Somehow, everyone who appeared created a newspaper and it became a press chaos more than press freedom, but the general character that prevailed over it was political journalism.
The space for freedom may have seemed wide during that period but government control and restrictions on the media were quite prominent until the 2011 revolution, in which the limits of freedoms and the margins of expression expanded. Of course, the media was used by the youth, through social media, people were mobilized and public opinion was mobilized. The squares, movements and civil protests were moving with a signal from social media.
The political landscape changed after the emergence of new conflict parties. These parties were aware of the danger of the media‘s voice and its role in legitimizing their presence on the ground. In turn, the Yemeni media split between two fronts. In the past, there were conflicts, but it had not happened before, that the conflicts were in this severe form, and it did not happen that the media elite was divided in this way. Before, there was a professional ethic even in all the political divisions. But now, during war, a state of demonization and traitorousness did occur to the extent that a journalist would report another journalist.
There is no doubt that war always prefers the bullet over the word. But it is clear that the press, freedom of opinion and expression, public freedoms and democracy need an atmosphere of security, peace and stability, and natural good conditions, so that the word actually has the first influence, status and value.
The conflict parties were able to instrumentalize the journalists in their favor. Instead of the journalist standing as a controlling element of the conflict, he became involved, and we got to this state. The policy of polarization began after that and the platforms of the parties began to try to flash their images to the local and international public opinion, so that each party would focus on the atrocities committed by his opponent, ignoring its own mistakes.
Political polarization is two-fold, it is inconvenient for society that society has lost confidence in the media because it does not express it well and does not adopt its issues. Social issues were absent. And if these issues are addressed, they will be politicized in favor of this party or the other. There was no professional dealing with social issues and with community issues as well as humanitarian issues. All of these issues have been politicized and dealt with in a way that serves one side against the other. This polarization harms political pluralism.
Unfortunately, there is no doubt that political polarization has a big and bad negative impact, because people are distributed among the fields of the parties, among the cells of the parties to the conflict, this is at the expense of independence.
A sincere word, a clean word, needs independence and freedom of expression. Polarization rallies people with colliding political trends but the war is the most dangerous. We are in the shadow of war now. The media and the word are divided and distributed among the conflicting forces. Of course, this polarization has led to the disappearance of multiple voices, and the single guiding media voice has become the dominant media scene since that time
The media has become limited and directed media, and it has become the flags of one voice, whether in the areas ruled by the “Ansar Allah” group or in the areas ruled by Sharia. The third voice does not exist: a voice against aggression and against external interference by any party in the internal affairs as well as against corruption and internal conflict between the people of the same nation.
There is now a division into two sides to the extent that some TV channels bearing the same name and slogan such as Faith TV and Yemen Today TV and Aden TV are being hijacked by two different parties, so that the Yemeni citizen became lost in his national identity and subject to a politicized media. This cloning of the media is a struggle over legitimacy, a result of political division. Each party wants to obtain the legitimacy that the “Yemen” channel has. For example, as an official channel representing the people for a long time, it has accumulated the mental image of the people. Each conflict party wants to monopolize the legitimacy of this channel, its mental image and pass its message through it.
Many private TV channels continued to emerge, each of which followed the direction and policy of the funders. All these channels continue to flow into one outlet, whether the official government or the affiliated channels all perform one function which is serving the parties to the war and feeding the conflict in the country.
It is very natural that any party imposes the content that it wants on it, imposes content on it that suits its policy and to prepare the mind of the people through a specific media discourse even if this media discourse is not what people need.
In light of the media dealing with events in a propagandistic manner the citizen is no longer able to distinguish between right and wrong and no longer has the ability to make sound and informed decisions. He has become aware that the truth is always hidden behind what is being said. The truth was lost in light of this obscure and exploitative handling of information and events. So the truth is affected and the public lost confidence in the media.
The media of any political party wishes to pass certain issues, certain plans, to draw people’s interests to other angles that are neither central nor important, export specific content so that in the future you can mobilize the community in the direction you want. The media have turned into platforms for exporting hostility, in which each party achieves its field victories at the expense of important people’s causes.
When the guns speak, the voice is silenced. There is no doubt that the issues and concerns of society are not completely absent but the dominant voice, the loudest voice, that attracts and blocks all voices is the sound of war and the speech of war. The war consumes everything, it consumed all the space not only at the level of the media, even on the level of people’s concerns, news of death, war, devastation and destruction has acquired such a large space of time that society’s issues are on the margins.
This is horror, great horror that all media channels are consumed by war in death, destruction and conflicts. Programs for children, programs for youth and women, their area is very small, these programs are what should be on the people’s awareness.
The gates of Heaven will not be opened except with the blood that is spent for the sake of the homeland – this is what the media seek to publish during this period to attract the largest number of recruits and this is why they portray people as mythical heroes of old stories.
The war that erupted silenced all voices, there was no longer an authority to impose regulation. It is this fighting in Yemen in the north, south, east, and west that has nullified public and civil freedoms. Rather, it abolishes life itself because of the political turmoil that has become most intense between the conflicting parties. Media censorship has increased, and the number of violations has increased in an unprecedented manner during the last five years, between the closure of facilities, arrests, assassinations and threats.
Unfortunately, during the years of the war, there are about 1,400 violations of press freedoms in Yemen, which is a large and heartbreaking number. The media lost about 45 journalists and photographers during this period. Also, the cases of violations and kidnappings exceeded 700 violations, and there are still more than 13 detained journalists. 11 journalists among them since 2015 and 2016 have been subjected to torture and disappearance also their health conditions are deteriorating and places of detention are bad.
All parties to the conflict raised the badges of hostility to the press and journalists in all regions of Yemen. I think that all filthy means were used against journalists in order to subjugate and co-opt them, and sometimes in order to absent them.
There are tens or even hundreds of journalists in prisons. There are journalists who have been murdered. There are journalists who have been forcibly disappeared and no one knows anything about them. In the past, even the repressive political authorities they feared journalists a little. If your family is exposed to threats or blackmail, I think we have reached the brink of ugliness in the violations against journalists. There is no longer a higher ceiling that journalists may be exposed to in the future.
Free media in Yemen are moving between the dark corridors of the conflict, and websites have become a smuggler for everyone who wants to make their voices heard, even if they are also censored. There is an important point: I think that what the media contributed to is not only that it provided an outlet for the modern generation to express their views in the way they wanted also it penetrated traditional media, and the audience became the producer and the content maker. Social media is now the only outlet, but it takes its limited space.
All that we have on this earth is propaganda and each side can support you only if you stick to its propaganda. Will the media remain just controlled by the hands of politicians?!