Local News

Journalism in Yemen: Profit at the expense of professionalism

National Yemen

Yemeni Press

By: Abdurrahman Shamlan
The amount of local Yemeni newspapers has virtually skyrocketed over the last couple years. The number of papers available at newsstands and in bookshops is very high, especially relative to actual readership numbers.
Not only have many daily and weekly newspapers recently been established, dozens of online news sites commenced operations in the wake of the Yemeni revolution.
Only a couple newspapers publish tens of thousands of copies; meanwhile, the rest publish only a few hundred copies each, reflecting underdeveloped readerships.
Even though many newspapers are available in bookstores, readers complain that almost all the country’s newspapers lack professionalism and accuracy. They further bemoan the fact that newspapers overlook journalism’s main function, that of reporting facts, because they care more about promoting particular agendas and making profits.
Fuad Rajeh, a well-known Yemeni freelance journalist, told the National Yemen that the number of newspapers in Yemen – and especially those printed in Arabic – greatly increased after the revolution began.
“As part of Yemen’s media landscape, journalism remains a tool to promote parties’ agendas, special interest groups, and the newspapers themselves. If some newspapers turn out well, still the suitable description of the press in general would be: ethics are mostly absent in many; in others, they are unpracticed or ignored,” he said.
Rajeh thinks lax national legislation is doubtless to blame for Yemen’s poor press performance and considered the state of journalism to be one part of the country’s overall unacceptable situation.
“Journalism here lacks the most important elements, those which would allow you to call it a real profession,” he added.
Mundhar Abdul-Jabbar, a bookshop owner in Sana’a’s Haddah area, pointed out that while the number of daily newspapers has increased to about eight to ten papers, there are now more than 25 weekly newspapers in circulation.
According to Abdul-Jabbar, five years earlier, there were only three to four daily papers and less than 10 weekly newspapers.
“I don’t read any of the Yemeni newspapers because, to be honest, they’re not interesting and there’s nothing in them to enjoy. But when I feel like reading, I read Arab newspapers and magazines because you can find good stories and entertaining stuff in them,” he said.
Abdul-Jabbar asserted that all the papers except for two should be banned from participation in journalism because most people buy and finish them before the afternoon arrives; he then noted that, for him, even the two exceptions aren’t quite good enough.
Speaking about the other papers, he said, “We only sell three to five copies of some papers, especially the partisan ones.”
Another bookshop owner stressed that journalism has simply become a trade and a way of earning money at the expense of its professed function.
“Public relations has come to dominate journalism; that’s why we see many newspapers on the market. Each paper tries to make money through advertisements, but most importantly through the support it receives from the sides it constantly praises and whose agendas it promotes,” he said. “If the paper is run by a clever manager, it can really be a profitable business; but real journalism is something rare in Yemen,” he said.
For his part, Radwan Al-Absi said, “There aren’t any ethics – nor is there credibility for the existing newspapers.” He asserted that he had lost faith in all newspapers after reading a number of articles which, while covering the same events, offered wildly contradictory reports.
“Unfortunately, each paper attempts to report news stories in ways which suits its own policies and agenda – even if it means reporting the opposite of what happened on the ground,” he said.
University student Hani Al-Ahda, said, “There is no journalism in Yemen, as the papers were established only to gain cheap popularity and undeserved money.”
“As long as the newspapers have no ethics, journalism in Yemen won’t make any advances in the future,” he added.
Although he buys at least two papers every day, Abdul-Tawab Al-Salwai said there isn’t a single paper in the country he feels eager to buy, and that he only buys them for their crossword sections, which he enjoys solving whilst chewing qat.
“In some countries, readers can’t wait to receive copies of some papers because they contain entertaining, interesting sections and shed light on social and traditional misconceptions and issues,” he said.
He said that every paper should be different, that they should try to target certain segments of society.” Some papers should target the youth, others children with some others for the old people,” Al-Salwai said.
Al-Salwai believes journalism’s main function must be to let decision-makers and leaders in the country know how common people are living and what they suffer from.
“Journalists must make sure that the decision-makers who live in palaces know how the common people live. They should serve as the people’s eyes on the leaders,” he said.
“It mustn’t be a tool for praising the president or the government, for promoting their moves; neither should it be a tool for carrying out agendas and promoting ideologies. Rather, journalism should play an investigative role,” Al-Salwai added.
Sharaf Al-Hamadi, an old man who spent more than 20 minutes searching for a good paper to buy before finally deciding on one in Arabic and another in English, invited the National Yemen reporter to have a look at all the piles of newspapers on display and to read some of the headlines, which he said have nothing to do with reality.
Al-Hamadi was then interrupted by a distributor carrying a large number of Al-Maseer newspapers, which are produced by Yemen’s Houthi movement.
“Read this paper – it publishes the truth, unlike all the other ones which only publish fake stories,” the distributor told him before giving him two copies of Al-Maseer free-of-charge.
With a smile on his face, Al-Hamadi took the copies. He gestured toward the paper’s headlines, which praised Houthis’ leader Abdul-Malik Al-Houthi, criticized his opponents and promoted the Shiite ideology.