Last year when I was in Yemen, I was lucky enough to spend a month copy editing for the Yemeni Government’s propaganda broadsheet – The Yemen Observer.
I would recommend the experience to any PR or journalist, no matter what stage of your career you might be at. It gives you a valuable insight into how propaganda is created and perpetuated.
The type of reports that I used to edit can still be read in the newspaper most weeks. They go something like this, ‘Militants affiliated to al-Qaeda in the Arabia Peninsula (AQAP) executed publicly two Yemeni citizens accusing them of collaborating with the United States intelligence, said local and security sources from Shabwa and Abyan provinces in the south of Yemen.’
What strikes me about these reports was that there are never images to accompany them. In the age of citizen journalism, where anyone can upload a photo from their phone to a news website, that no one witnessed these events is odd, to say the least. After all, Al Qaeda are know for their naming and claiming their violence in graphic ways.
The Yemen Observer is published weekly. And every week the government reports violence, death or warfare that no one can corroborate or dispute. As the Arab Spring took hold last year, it became almost impossible for anyone not from an Arab or Islamic country to obtain a visa for Yemen. It was almost as difficult to travel outside Sana’a or any of the main cities. You needed official permission from the police within 24 hours before the journey and you had to produce a copy of that document at each checkpoint you passed through. On one three hour journey out of Sana’a, I encountered at least ten checkpoints.
During my career I have been fortunate enough to work in many places where free media does not exist. I say fortunate, because these experiences have helped me to understand that free media is the exception, not the norm in the world today.
Yet, the most shocking thing about propaganda is not it's pervasiveness or the dangerously spurious way that it is manufactured, but the intelligent and experienced people who believe it. This was true for Yemen then and is still true in many other places.