Centre des médias du château de Johannesberg, en Suède


Seeing, hearing and telling the first signals of peace in Yemen

Aseell Sarih, an award-winning journalist from Sana’a (Yemen), took a historic photo in December 2018, showing the first public handshake since 2016 between representatives of the opposite parties in Yemen’s long-running conflict, in the Media Center at Johannesberg Castle, Sweden.

The castle was the site for the first peace talks for two years, from 6 to 13 December 2018. The photo went viral on social media in Yemen, and was featured by international media outlets. 

A team from the ‘Yemen peace talks newsroom’, an initiative set up by UNESCO and Canal France International (CFI), with the support of the Swedish Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Special Envoy for Yemen, was on hand throughout the talks to ensure that Yemenis received full, objective and balanced coverage.   

Centre des médias du château de Johannesberg, en Suède © Salle de rédaction des pourparlers de paix au Yémen
Johannesberg Castle Media Centre, in Sweden © Yemen Peace Talks Newsroom 

In the run-up to the peace talks, several Yemeni social media users discussed the problem that most of the country's media outlets had strong political orientations and supported one side over the other. 

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, a journalist for the Yemeni Peace Talks Newsroom

The overall objective of this initiative is to train, sponsor and coach journalists to produce and disseminate impartial and balanced coverage of the negotiations, in a context marked by high levels of polarization in Yemeni media. By bringing together journalists working as freelancers or reporters from various media in Yemen, the initiative seeks to provide a platform and the necessary resources for journalists to produce ethical, professional and independent coverage of the peace negotiations. 

À la tribune, le négociateur en chef des Houthis, Mohammed Abdelsalam © UNESCO
UN Special Envoy Martin Griffiths, UN Secretary General António Guterres and Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom during the Yemen peace talks in Johannesberg Castle, Sweden ©UNESCO 

In Johannesberg, the Yemen peace talks newsroom brought together eleven journalists from different parts of Yemen. It was the largest media team on site to cover the peace talks and consisted in five reporters, two editors, a producer, a cameraman and two community managers. 

Their interviews with representatives of the opposite delegations, foreign ambassadors, Yemeni civil society representatives, and advisors to the Special Envoy for Yemen, along with infographics, live streaming, videos, and articles, helped to bring Yemeni communities back home as close as possible to the consultations taking place in Sweden and to inform the public about the decision-making processes and negotiations that may affect the future of Yemen. 

À la tribune, le négociateur en chef des Houthis, Mohammed Abdelsalam © UNESCO
At the podium, the chief negotiator for Yemen's Houthi, Mohammed Abdelsalam ©UNESCO 

Aseell, Amal, Noor, Hussein, Abdelrahman, Mustafa, Manal, Eissa, Wajdi and Ahmed became the eyes and ears of people in Yemen. The initiative, the first of its kind for the Yemeni peace talks, was an immediate success. In one week, 5,000 people followed the "Newsroom" Facebook page and its videos accumulated 80,000 views. 

We are receiving very positive feedback from the people of Yemen and the delegations involved in the negotiations. People are informed. To play this role as journalist is a unique opportunity
Manal Qaed
We have a growing presence on social media. We also send content to a long list of local news websites, and I have the feeling that we are the main source of information for dozens of media outlets in Yemen
Aseell Sarih

One year later, in December 2019, some 30 Yemeni journalists and editors of different persuasions gathered in Amman, Jordan, at a seminar to continue the progress made in Sweden. Organized within the framework of the EU-funded YMER + project implemented by CFI, in collaboration with ARIJ (Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism) and UNESCO, the seminar provided a space for participants to share and confront their opinions, mainly on the humanitarian situation in Yemen, its issues, challenges and priorities, the situation and role of the media, cooperation between the media and civil society organizations in Yemen, and the production of content and strengthening the role of the media in disseminating reliable information on the humanitarian situation in the country.   

Arab reporters for investigative journalism

At the end of the seminar, a Code of Conduct was adopted and signed by all participants: 

  1. Commitment to journalistic and professional values of audacity, credibility, transparency, accuracy, independence, and the dissemination of the truth without further consideration. 

  2. Objectivity towards the diversity that characterizes the Yemeni society, its different components, and regions. 

  3. To defend press and media and freedom of expression in general. 

  4. To move away from hate speech, incitement of hatred and provocation of sectarian and regional strife among the Yemeni people. 

  5. Commitment to the rules of publication in the media regarding minors, vulnerable groups and moral crimes and preserve the dignity of the victims. 

  6. To refrain from exploiting the profession for personal gain and from fueling political conflict. 

  7. Include humanitarian issues in our media coverage.  

  8. Verify the accuracy of information from all sources, avoiding errors and avoiding dissemination of information from another medium without crediting the source. 

Vote et adoption du code de conduite à Amman en Jordanie © ARIJ
Vote and adoption of the Code of Conduct in Amman, Jordan ©ARIJ

The commitment made in Amman responds to a constant demand from the population, especially from Yemeni youth. According to a survey conducted in December 2020 among 1,200 young people, aged 15 to 30, 72% of respondents do not trust the local media and 85%  agreed that threatening Yemeni journalists prevents them from reporting the truth. 

The first case of COVID-19 in Yemen was recorded in April 2020 and a new challenge presented itself to journalists in the country. In the current context, dis- and misinformation represent a serious challenge in addressing a viral epidemic. The situation in Yemen has called for urgent measures to equip local journalists with the necessary skills to best inform the public, raise awareness about the pandemic, and fight against hate speech and discrimination.  

As part of its immediate and specially tailored response, globally and at the national level, UNESCO partnered with the regional organization Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ) to organize three capacity-development webinars for journalists in Yemen on how to communicate amidst the COVID-19 crisis 

It is within this framework that UNESCO has once again joined forces with the ARIJ to organize three webinars for journalists in Yemen on the following themes: safety and ethics for journalists during the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific journalism, and reporting in times of information disorder and verification tools. Forty-four Yemeni journalists, including 24 men and 20 women, have benefited to date.  

It was a great experience. We learnt all about safety measures to consider while covering COVID-19, as well as how to cover scientific stories, which really improved my ability to cover COVID-19 in Yemen, and finally, it also helped me distinguish between real and “fake” news.
Ahmed Baidar, journalist participating in the webinar

Lasting peace in Yemen will be a long process, and Yemeni journalists intend to play a decisive role.