Yemen's Life Watch reaches Dhamar, halfway from Taiz to Sana'a
Last week, tens of thousands of Yemenis marched 264 kilometres (160 miles) from Taiz to the capital Sana'a to demand justice for fallen protesters. To demand that President Ali Abdullah Saleh be brought to trial over his actions in suppressing peaceful demonstrators. To demand that the wishes, hopes and dreams of millions of Yemenis who brought their lives to a standstill for the past year to get rid of a despotic dictatorship will be honoured.
When the marchers reached Sana'a, they did not get justice or honour. Instead, they were gifted bullets from their current rulers, condemnation from the US Ambassador, and something akin to a deafening silence in most of the international media.
The protesters called their walk through the rugged terrain of Yemen the Life March --- but does a march for life take place if no one is covers it?
You may have thought that for mainstream media, hich offers wholesale narrative of how Yemen is becoming the next Afghanistan for Al Qa'eda, a story of life over death and peace over terrorism might have been an alternative presentation. Perhaps, with the social media revolution since 2009, these outlets could have employed some citizen journalists on the ground to fill pages and TV screens.
Alas, the reverse seems to have happened. Instead of social media broadening the scope of news through traditional colleagues, press and broadcasters have stepped further back --- until there is a saturation point of coverage on the Internet, those reporters do not follow, let alone lead. That's why we keep hearing about Egypt and Syria while the cold, hard truth in Bahrain and Yemen does not attract ,mainstream. attention.
This is what at least I hoped would happen: an important event takes place, traditional media use their local social media contacts and provide in-depth coverage of an event to which they have not or cannot send full-time employees.
This is what has happened: an important event takes place, the traditional media wait to see if enough people are talking about said event on social media. If so, those outlet lift everything that is on offer or, maybe, send a couple of full-time employees for a week's coverage of developments which takes months or years to reach a climax.
The first time I wrote an article, eight years ago to the day, I walked up to the desk of a senior editor at my newspaper. Sitting behind a desk at least 10 years old, on a chair at least five years older than that, the editor looked up at me with shabby clothes and tired eyes and said:
Mr. Shahryar, I want you to understand something before I look at this. You're not a regular guy who's about to make a living writing about stuff. You're about to respond to a calling. By handing me this report, you're saying, "If you accept this, I promise to hold it as my duty to tell the public the truth about what they should know...on time. Will you stand between a corrupt government who wants to keep its citizens unaware and a public that needs to know in order to hold that government accountable?"
This was in Kabul, Afghanistan. Reporters there were "classically" trained in journalism, but they knew that they were not here to entertain people but to inform them.
Eight years later, I believe that informing people in the "West" about the Yemeni drive to achieve some semblance of freedom and justice is crucial. At a time when many are terrified with fear of bearded, brown men wearing turbans coming out of Yemen to commit violence, is it not pertinent to let them know that the same men and their wives and children walked for 264 kilometers to demand the rights for which the "free world" prides itself?
This will be a difficult task. But sitting back and leaving "traditional" media to take on the task --- or setting aside the main duty in yet another debate about social v. "traditional" media --- should not be the default position. This new journalism, for Yemen and many other locations, needs to evolve further. It should not be just a 911 call; instead, it should be the response to that call.