Friday, May 12, 2006

Poor journalism on Yemen

I must confess that despite the fact that I have never met him I really don't like James Brandon. I have always found his reporting to be missing something, and today is no different. And while I do not know him personally everyone I respect in Yemen who has met him dislikes him, with one notable exception. He has caused no end of hassle and heartache for many in Yemen, most notably during an attempt to cover the al-Huthi revolt in 2005. I say this not as way to pick on Brandon, but rather to say he has a new piece out in the Christian Science Monitor on poetry as an antidote to terrorism in Yemen.

The piece is not that objectionable, he quotes a respected authority in the field - W. Flagg Miller - although I think Steve Caton would have been a more senior choice, but ok, and he doesn't make too many errors of fact. But I can't help wondering, why this piece made the paper and why it is significant? The poetry program, if one can call it that, first started making headlines in Yemen in 2004, but never really took off despite the governments attempts - a different "re-education program" did much better.

Besides magnifying a small program with very little impact the piece did nothing, and of course Brandon only interviewed English speaking sources and relied on President Salih's press secretary, Faris Sanabani, as a major source, while only identifying him as close to the president. The piece is puff, and I'm fairly dissapointed that the Monitor saw fit to print it - there are so many stories out of Yemen - the end of water, the sketchy and fragile de facto truce between the government and Islamists groups, and so on - that settling on this story seems a force-fed piece of propoganda from the president's office to the paper. Somewhere Hemingway says something like: You never really likes journalism about a country you really know. I suppose that is true in my case, or at least about a country I like to think that I know, but I think there are any number of important and intriguing stories that could be written about Yemen, and this is not one of them.

But we're moving on. In other news, another one of the 23 escapees has been re-captured. I wasn't going to point this out until I noticed the similarity of al-Hayat's and al-Sharq al-Awsat's headlines - but I don't remember the prison being mentioned as a "Political Security Prison," in earlier stories, which is not to say that it wasn't only that I don't remember it as such. Whether or not that was the case, the fact that the 23 men escaped from a Political Security prison is fairly important - as they almost surely had inside help - and something no one seems to be talking about. If Political Security is corrupt to the point where officers are actively supporting suspects break out of jail then something is drastically wrong. Here is the story from the BBC on the recapture of Abdullah al-Raymi.

Two English stories on al-Zindani. I was disappointed by Chaise's coverage for AFP, especially considering the track record of excellence that this reporter has established, but I'm willing to let it slide. The wrath of al-Zabaniya is famously just. Here is one from the Yemen Times on al-Zindani opening up al-Iman University for inspection.

I could say much more and point out more stories that caught my eye, but moving day is open us- the boxes are packed the truck rented and the time to shake the dust of this town from our collective feet is now.


At 9:25 PM, Anonymous Yemen's best Friend said...

Al-Eman university isn't open for inspection and its unlikely that it will ever be, The US amabassador was only invited to visit to check for himself what the university is about, Pres. Saleh made the invitation because its a custom in yemeni culture to invite those who claim something to confirm themselves and check it out.
However, it would be a good idea to translate the journals published within the university into english for the world to see what research and thought is being developed in the university.

At 7:55 AM, Blogger al-Zabaniya said...

Yemen's best friend,

You are correct. The Yemen Times later printed a correction. Like most things involving al-Zindani and al-Iman University there was a great deal of confusion regarding the invitation. I agree with you that it would be wise to see some of the research translated.

In fact, I only remember seeing one piece on al-Iman University and that was in al-Hayat in 2003 or 2004.


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