Six years of war have changed the Yemeni media landscape for worst in terms of number of publications, independence, freedom of the media and the press and distribution. According to Freedom House “Freedom in the World” report Yemen received 11 out of 40 points for political rights, 10 out of 60 for civil rights, and a Not Free Status. These numbers indicate that Yemen belongs to the 25 least free countries in the world. On the scales of the Internet Freedom Scores and Democracy Scores Yemen did not even appear. Although on the 2020 World Press Freedom Index Yemen has improved one position since last year, the press freedom is still considered to be in a very serious situation (black category).
According to the International Media Support organization’s 2019 Annual Report the IMS mentoring program provided help for the Al-Mushahid startup to strengthen its editorial and journalistic capacity. Thanks to the American University in Beirut, Yemenis could also receive online training besides journalists of Gaza, and Syria. Since the outbreak of the new civil war in 2015, the TV and the radio dominate the media scene, while the press is subject to suppression. Albeit by now some 7 million Yemenis have access to the internet, the availability of content and the network access is strictly limited by the Houthi government.
The Media Support organisation report of 2012 about media in Yemen explains that before 2011 there were clear red lines which President Ali Abdullah Saleh considered inviolable. Journalists were largely able to understand the risks of crossing them. But with the collapse of Saleh’s presidency came a new threatening environment, in which red lines and those who had the guns to enforce them proliferated. After enduring more than three decades of censorship, Yemen’s press should have flourished after President Saleh announced his resignation in November 2011 in the face of months of massive protests. Revolution helped a lot of new media to emerge; most of them are belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood Islah Party or have political views very close to it. But like in so many Arab countries after that period, hopes for greater freedom for the press were dashed.
The situation definitely collapsed in 2014 and at the beginning of 2015, when Houthis occupied the city of Sana’a and then expanded their presence, influence and power from the North to the South. In the North, the circulation of certain press, belonging to the official government and President Hadi was discouraged and even blocked; especially the press close to the Muslim Brotherhood vision, and the Islah Party political views was stopped, offices closed, journalists fired or even arrested and kidnapped by gunmen and militias. Some of them disappeared and no one knows where they are exactly until now. In the city of Sana’a, actually, the only press available is that belonging to Houthis militias, Ansarullah party or, if independent, which supports de facto the new government in the North, criticizes the loyal government of Mansur Hadi and condemns the Saudi led military campaign against Yemen.
The media is dominated through the links between the media outlets and the political parties. Most local publishers suspended their print editions, while the English language press has completely disappeared. TV channels are also strictly controlled by parties, each side operates its own program. Private satellites are only allowed to operate if they have close relations to the leading groups.
The development of journalistic professionalism in Yemen has reached a minimum term. War destroyed any ambition. Journalists who are still working take part in a propaganda game, positioning themselves with or against the loyal government and paying consequently the price. Although detentions, violent actions, and torture were already present since the outbreak of the civil war, lately death sentences were prosecuted against the voices of the opposition. Besides the insecure political environment airstrikes, urban fights, and inhuman conditions endanger journalists while reporting. As the Yemeni press is under threat from all directions and journalists are unable to report or even defend their own colleagues without fear of retaliation. The targeted intimidation and the reportedly dead or missing journalists have also affected foreign journalists. The hostile circumstances have led to the closure of most of the newspapers, television channels, and news websites.
The media market didn’t develop as expected after the Revolution in 2011, but rather transitioned to a weak phase, absolutely dominated by the links between the media and the political parties. This is totally clear in the printed media marked, followed by the broadcast TV market and website circulation where, with the presence of international and satellite channels and websites not based in the country, it is possible to have access to different and various views about what is happening inside and outside of Yemen.
The control of the militias over journalists is strong and dangerous for them. So, the intervention of the two de facto States in the country (the official government of President Mansour Hadi and the Houthi government under the presidency of Ali Abdullah Saleh) is invasive. The Yemeni press is under threat from all directions and journalists are unable to report or even defend their own colleagues without fear of retaliation.
Considering also the deaths resulting from bombings by the Saudi-led coalition fighting the Houthis and the targeting of journalists by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula, this is the worst time ever in the history of the country in terms of cost of journalists’ lives.