13.12.2018 - UNESCO Office in Doha

Voices from Yemen: 11 journalists launch “Yemen peace talks newsroom”


“Was this the first handshake?” Margot Wallström, Sweden's Minister of Foreign Affairs, asked as she met with the 11 journalists from the “Yemen peace talks newsroom”, an initiative set up by UNESCO and CFI to give Yemenis full, objective and balanced coverage of the first round of peace negotiations in two years.

The Minister was looking at the picture of the first public handshake between representatives of the opposite parties since the last peace talks on Yemen in 2016. The photo was taken by Aseell Sarih, an award-winning journalist from Sana’a. Aseell was able to capture this historic moment while conducting interviews for the “Yemen peace talks newsroom” on the first floor of the Media Center at Johannesberg Castle in Sweden, the epicenter of the Yemen peace talks from 6-13 December 2018.  

The photo went viral on social media in Yemen and, within a few hours, became the headline of several international media outlets reporting from the ground floor of the Media Center.

Against a backdrop of partisan coverage, Aseell, Amal, Noor, Hussein, Abdelrahman, Mustafa, Manal, Eissa, Wajdi and Ahmed became the eyes and ears of people in Yemen. Being the biggest media team on location, they produced dozens of interviews with representatives of the opposite delegations, foreign ambassadors, representatives from Yemeni civil society and advisers to the Special Envoy for Yemen along with infographics, livestreams, videos and articles to bring communities back home as close as possible to the consultations in Sweden.

"Usually Yemenis say if you side with one party to the conflict, you have one enemy. But if you're neutral, you have two enemies," Ahmed Baider, one of the newsroom’s journalist, explained in an interview with Al Jazeera English. "If we do an interview with this delegation, we'll do an interview with the other delegation. We give both sides an opportunity to speak. We're balanced”.

Manal Qaed, a journalist from the port city of Hodeida commented: "We’re receiving very positive feedback from people in Yemen and from the delegations taking part in the negotiations. People are informed. It is a unique opportunity to be able to play this role as journalists”.

In the run up to the peace talks, several Yemeni social media users discussed the lack of impartial media in Yemen and the subsequent consequences this would have on local coverage of the peace talks. In response to these concerns, UNESCO and CFI joined forces to support 11 journalists from different regions of Yemen in setting up the “Yemen peace talks newsroom”, with the support of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen.

"The media landscape in Yemen is very polarized, with the majority of media outlets being driven by political agendas. So there needs to be a third voice that provides balanced information to the Yemeni public. We’re therefore very proud that 11 Yemeni journalists from Sana'a, Aden, Hodeida and Taiz are working together to bring the information back to Yemen," said Marion Desmurger, Senior Programme Assistant at UNESCO Regional Office for the Gulf States and Yemen.

The initiative, the first of its kind for peace talks on Yemen, was an immediate success. Within a week, 5,000 people followed the newsroom’s Facebook page and its videos accumulated 80,000 views.

"We're growing bigger and bigger on social media. We also send content to a long list of local news websites and I sense that we are the top source of information for dozens of media outlets in Yemen," Aseel said.

The “Yemen peace talks newsroom” also generated important international interest, with several media outlets writing about the initiative, interviewing the newsroom’s reporters or using the journalists’ photos and information as sources for regional and international media stories.


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