Corruption stories miss Yemeni media
Mohammed al Qadhi, Foreign Correspondent
April 13. 2009
SANA’A // Independent newspapers are not reporting enough on corruption issues, according to a new study by a local non-governmental organisation.
The Centre for Training and Protection of Journalists’ Freedom (CTPJF) made the claim in a report released last week, which analysed the coverage of 15 newspapers representing state, party and independent press between Jan 20 and March 10, reviewing 607 articles in which the word “corruption” was mentioned 3,368 times.
Newspapers in Yemen are divided into independent, political party and government categories.
The report, titled The Extent of Influence of Political Affiliation of Newspapers on their Reporting of Corruption Issues, found that the independent press allocated only 18 per cent of its news coverage to corruption, while in the party press the figure was 49.7 per cent. For the state press it was 30.7 per cent.
It also said the nature of how a paper reported on a particular instance of corruption was influenced by the paper’s affiliation.
“These are serious indicators because they demonstrate that independent press selected for the purpose of the study is not reporting sufficiently on corruption issues. The influence of political affiliation has also been great,” said Wadee al Azazi, associate professor of media at Sana’a University who analysed the data of the study. Prof al Azazi said many journalists were registered as being independent at the information ministry but in reality were affiliated to a particular political group.
He said, however, there is independent reporting in Yemen, but that the press does not have the resources to meet the standards of independent media elsewhere.
“This might be because of a lack of resources or an insufficient number of skilled and professional journalists, or the absence of the institutionalised function of some of these newspapers in the study to carry out enough reporting on corruption.”
Though some newspapers highlighted in the study for their lack of independence were merely dealing with the same concerns common to newspapers the world over, Prof al Azazi said: advertising revenue.
“It can be spelt out in terms of some newspapers by bowing to the political or even commercial-driven influence of advertisers. This kind of pressure perhaps influenced their editorial policy with regards to corruption.”
The objective of the study, according to Mohammed Sadeq al Udainin, executive director of CTPJF, was to identify the impact of political affiliation on newspapers’ coverage of corruption issues and the extent and methods of such reporting.
The study’s findings also showed that investigative reporting in Yemen, a fledgling democracy, was rare.
“The absence of investigative reporting in Yemeni newspapers in reporting corruption issues demonstrates that the press coverage of corruption issues is not sufficient. Newspapers should pay special attention to this genre as well as others like analysis reporting, providing broader space and freedom in reporting issue of corruption,” the study says.
Sami Ghalib, editor of al Nidaa, an independent weekly, said newspapers lacked the financial resources to support in depth investigative reporting.
Mr al Udainin agreed.
“This is catastrophic for the journalism profession,” he said.
“These newspapers lack the resources to spend on investigative reports; they also lack skilled professional investigative reporters. Fighting corruption needs a strong professional investigative journalism.
“Besides, most of the so-called independent newspapers are individual enterprises, and therefore, some editors are not professionals and thus, using different journalistic genres does not matter to them. Again, difficulty accessing information is one of the headaches for the Yemeni press.
“Without free access to information, the journalist cannot do his job; this is why the study recommended that SNACC [Supreme National Authority to Combat Corruption] establish an information unit to help journalists do their job efficiently and professionally.”
In 2007, the government set up the SNACC, an 11-member independent body that has a mandate to investigate alleged cases of corruption, as well as promote awareness in the community.
The study was carried out in collaboration with the SNACC and the US National Democratic Institute.
Ahmed Karhash, a member of SNACC, criticised journalists for not seeking information from his institution on corruption.
“I was shocked by the independent and party press, which attacked us ruthlessly from the first day we took over at SNACC,” he said.
“The press should support our efforts in curbing corruption. Some newspapers are good and we do take what they publish on corruption seriously. But I am expecting them to play a more proactive role, chasing us, asking us about what we have been doing.”
While mentioning that the law bans members of his organisation from talking about issues on which the courts have not ruled, he said that 15 corruption cases have been uncovered since the beginning of this year.
Mr al Udainin said his centre is planning to conduct a more comprehensive study.
“We selected 15 newspapers as a first phase as we had only a limited time to carry out the study. However, we plan to carry out a more comprehensive study that includes the online press and broadcast media,” he said.