Written By: Haykal Bafana
Article Date: Dec 31, 2012 - 8:44:30 PM
On December 19 2012, President Abdo Rabbo Mansur Hadi issued 4 significant decrees about military restructuring in Yemen.
CNN reported that “the elite Republican Guard and the 1st Armored Division will be absorbed into the country’s Defense Ministry”. AFP reported that “Hadi scrapped the elite Republican Guard”.
For a dash of local flavor, AFP then cited Yemeni newspaper Al Masdar’s report of the dramatic words of Hadi’s office director Nasr Taha that ”the Republican Guard and the 1st Armored Division are no more.” Reuters reported Yemeni state television as saying that Hadi had “abolished the elite Republican Guard and the 1st Armored Division.”
Unfortunately, these reports are completely without factual basis. President Hadi’s decrees did not state that the Republican Guards or the 1st Armored division would be “absorbed” into the Defence Ministry, as CNN claimed. The claim by Reuters and AFP that the Republican Guards and the 1st Armored Division have been scrapped by Hadi is also not true. Now, I am certainly circumspect before leveling serious criticism at internationally renowned media outlets such as CNN, Reuters and AFP.
I do not know the sources of their news reports : maybe they have confidential sources, or perhaps they have access to highly placed contacts “who cannot be named as they are not authorized to speak to the media.” However, I do know for a fact that CNN, Reuters and AFP got the news wrong on Yemen in this instance. I have always been partial to keeping things simple and it is no big secret how I know they are wrong :
I actually read the words of President Hadi’s decrees numbered 104, 105, 106 and 109 dated 19 December 2012. And that is how I know. To be fair, foreign media outlets like CNN depend on local journalists in Yemen to report on the ground for them.
For example, reporting for his self-owned Yemen Post, CNN’s reporter in Sanaa Hakim Al Masmari went even further, claiming that “the decree fired the elder son of the former president, Ahmed Saleh…commander of the Republican Guard” and that “according to this decree, the Yemeni army will not include the Republican Guard and the First Armored Division”.
Al Masmari also reported that “new chiefs have been named by Hadi” to replace General Ahmad Ali Saleh and General Ali Muhsin Al Ahmar respectively, as commanders of the Republican Guards and 1st Armoured Division. So while the news on Yemen as reported by international media outlets is factually wrong on many occasions, the “news” reported by Yemeni newspapers often stand firmly within the borders of complete fiction.
Indeed, at the best of times, it is a significant challenge to find accurate news on Yemen. This difficulty is not due to a paucity of choice. There are a massive number of Yemeni news outlets, especially online micro-news sites : I scan on a daily basis well over 300 online Yemeni news sites.
Additionally, in a recent but welcome development, the Yemeni government has ceased censoring access to Internet-based news sites, whether Yemeni or foreign. Neither are there stringent government controls on the media to prevent news being reported.
Yemeni journalists have so far in 2012 not been subjected to arrest, imprisonment or harassment in the course of their work. Indeed, with the Yemeni government’s new open door policy, foreign journalists can visit the country with little hassle to report on any conceivable story. I myself know a number of freelance Western journalists based in Sanaa, who also spend their time in Yemen learning Arabic.
The principal hurdle to getting accurate news in Yemen is that local news outlets are completely polarized along partisan fault lines. In tandem with the political pandemonium of Yemen, every conceivable political, tribal and military faction in Yemen has set up their own media outlets, with a significant number having the financial wherewithal to establish private satellite television stations.
The partisan bias of all these faction-based news outlets naturally extends to the journalists who produce the copy. And when these Yemeni journalists are also used as “stringers” by the likes of CNN or Reuters, it unwittingly brings the Yemeni war of words, propaganda and fiction to the international arena. As a trial lawyer in Singapore, it was my experience that the truth is never volunteered – it must be persuaded, cajoled and sometimes, forcefully extracted even at the point of tears from evasive witnesses.
While I am neither journalist nor editor, it seems to me this principle may be beneficial for the international media to keep in mind when reporting news on Yemen. For in Yemen, the truth is an elusive treasure that is not simply handed over on a silver platter.
Epilogue : I have just been assured via Twitter by Mr Mohammed Al Basha, the spokesman for the Yemeni Embassy in Washington DC, that there are decrees signed by President Hadi on military restructuring which have yet to be published, and also that the 1st Armored Division and the Republican Guards have ceased to exist.
I told him, as a lawyer I like important things to be written down in black and white, especially when entire military divisions totaling more than 100,000 soldiers are said to have ceased to exist.
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