Shabwa: Media Coverage between Contradiction and Misinformation


Sat, 15-01-2022 03:30 PM, Aden

Farida Ahmed (South24)

The latest political and military developments in the Southern governorate of Shabwa have attracted unprecedented attention from the local, Arab and foreign Media outlets. Since the beginning of the battle for liberating three Shabwa’s districts (Beihan, Usaylan, and Ain) which have been seized in September by the Iran-backed Houthis, all eyes turned towards this economically and strategically important governorate.


The media outlets highlighted the path of the political reforms process represented in appointing a new governor in light of the political side of the “Riyadh Agreement” which has been obstructed for a long time. They also tracked the military reforms launched by the “Southern Giants Forces” for liberating Shabwa districts from the Houthi grip. They came from the Western Coast as part of a new strategy adopted by the Saudi-led Coalition. 


However, in the midst of this coverage which included major channels such as “Sky News Arabia”, some local, regional, and international media outlets resorted to omitting and fabricating important facts as well as adding inaccurate ones in an attempt to distort some aspects of truth, and to display them in a fragmentary way.  This has been in line with similar efforts by political and media elites who are close to the Yemeni Government’s decision-making circles.


The Southerners complain about the Northern elite’s domination over the Yemeni Media outlets and some offices related to Arab Channels or international news agencies.


Thus, these channels have made unprofessional coverage in many of their reports about South Yemen. This is a deep problem that extends for years since the establishment of the "Yemeni Unity" in 1990.


This paper is trying to highlight the media coverage that emerged during the 10-days Battle in Shabwa (Operation South Tornado) and analyze the misleading media discourse. 


The paper also connects that with other similar events to reveal the extent of contradiction in the media policy adopted by these outlets or the public discourse of some Yemeni elites. 


Between the Yemeni Army and the Southern Giants Brigades


In the early hours of January, the battle for liberating Bayhan district kicked off. The media outlets circulated reports about a battle launched by the “Yemeni Army” against the Houthis in Bayhan, [1] in a reference to the “National Army” which is based in Marib as its last Northern bastion and is affiliated with Yemeni Vice President and the Islah Party.


However, the truth has another face as the “Yemeni Army” played no role in the battle for liberating Shabwa while the “Southern Giants Forces” have been at the forefront of the military scene.


 This came after the performance of the former local authority, closely related to the Islamic Party, disappointed the governorate’s residents, especially when they handed over its districts to the Houthis without any form of resistance according to field military commanders. [2]


However, Qatari and Saudi media outlets such as Al Jazeera, Al Arabiya, and Al Hadath made inaccurate coverage and distorted facts when they claimed that the “Yemeni Army” (The National Army) is at the forefront of the liberation battle. They marginalized the role played by the “Southern Giants Brigades” which are known as “the Yemeni Giants”.


This coverage quickly witnessed a relative change after a sharp wave of Social Media criticism but it remained without change in the reports written in English that addressed the West. [3] 

Likewise, Reuters’s coverage of the event adopted the same line when it referred to the “Giants Forces” as being “Yemeni” rather than “Southern” [4] although it had to stick to their official name. 


Some political voices expressed their opposition to the frequent avoidance of using the word “South” in many places, [5] especially those international news agencies which are supposed to monitor their professional standards and use check-up tools amid a boom of multiple means of data transmission. Those international outlets have been criticized for making Northern journalists in charge of their offices in Yemen. 

This background about the Media coverage’s

mistreatment and misinformation about events in South Yemen is not the first of its kind as it has been preceded by other indicators. “South24” previously published a piece that tackled this issue. [6]


The possibility of making misinformation about Shabwa Battles was apparently one of the reasons that pushed the “Giants Forces” to change its name to be “the Southern Giants Forces [7] instead of “the Giants Forces-Western Coast”

Before that, the Southern Giants Forces dubbed the battles for liberating Shabwa districts as “South Tornado”. Moreover, some of its members lifted the National Southern flags over the military vehicles during the battles.

In addition to the forces’ affiliation with South Yemen, the change of the name has been also attributed to the specific geographic range of the military operation scenes.


The contradiction of the discourse

Since the beginning of Shabwa liberation battles, the media outlets affiliated with Islah as well as other Northern elites asked the “Southern Giants Forces” for intervention to liberate Northern areas from the Houthi grip. This came despite the fact that the same media outlets used to incite against the “Giants Brigades” and repeatedly described them as being “Emirati backed". 


The coverage’s frequent tendency to make connections between the recognized Emirati support, which is part of the Arab Coalition, and the “Giants Forces” goes beyond this to malicious campaigns which use systematic language to incite against the “Giants Brigades” and portray them as being “mercenaries”.


This approach continued by switching between the recognized definition and the claimed one in order to merge them as inseparable inside the recipient mentality. 


The Emirati or Saudi support is not a secret. But the irony here is that the “National Army”, which was established completely by the Arab Coalition’s support for the same purpose as other forces fighting the Houthis, is not met with the same criticism or doubtness directed against all forms of southern military forces. Receive. Sometimes, the troops affiliated with the STC in Aden are described as being “coup forces” but meanwhile they are called upon to complete liberating Northern areas to prove the extent of their fighting seriousness.  


There are prior indicators of misinformation led by Yemeni activists to exploit and stir up past disputes in the West Coast. This includes, for example, the accusations against the Commander in Chief of the Giants Brigades "Abu Zara'a Al Muharrami" when he dismissed the Commander of the “3rd Giants Brigade” nicknamed "Abu Aisha" in May last year due to his involvement in corruption issues. [8]


On the other hand, it is worth mentioning that the narrative by most parties directed to the “Southern Giants Forces” after their victories in Shabwa Battles has been somewhat softened. However, these brigades will be cautiously praised in North Yemen if they fight in the depth of the Northern territories away from the slogans related to the "separatist" efforts in South. [9]


Trackers of the media coverage in Yemen could notice a large size of contradiction which is not limited to one part but extended to the whole media contents. This could be named as “flop” or “psychological war” in covering the crises. 


However, the overflow of fabrication and misinformation, especially from big international outlets that are based upon targeted local media, always causes growing resentment for large sectors of Yemenis, especially in South. 


Another side of the coverage


The positive media coverage of the latest battles to liberate Shabwa has been met with a lot of media attention, and a number of satellite channels sent their correspondents, some of whom from South Yemen, to more than one front for preparing reports about the events. This indicates the degree of media attention towards field military developments whether from the media close to the Coalition or otherwise.


Publicly, a number of Gulf and Yemeni officials [10] pointed to the military operation carried out by the “Southern Giants” Forces in Shabwa. This in itself could be an indicator of the harmony between the impact of impartial media coverage, and the interaction of the political and intellectual elites with them, without dividing or altering the truth.


It should be said that relying on correspondents or delegates who are committed to professional standards in conveying data is important for those who are interested in Yemeni affairs. 


The regional and particularly the international media outlets, which are deemed by many as well-established and reliable sources of information, should largely focus on a network of correspondents and delegates who report the true and the real names of the story.  


The only way for achieving such changes is emanating from inside the media institutions themselves by assigning the right persons in the right places. This especially applies to those who have local origins to ensure presenting more deep and accurate information, or at least depend on independent journalists who are not biased to certain parties.


This is important to avoid misinformation but we can’t ignore that media outlets, especially the Arab ones, are being under the pressure of the policies adopted by the countries they represent or reflect their image. 

Farida Ahmed

South24 Center Resident Fellow, researcher and journalist in political affairs. 

Photo: Extracted from SkyNews, 07 January 2022