RICHARD BUTLER. Our white man’s media.

Nov 24, 2016

In this blog, I will be posting occasional pieces under the title ‘our white man’s media’ about the inadequate coverage of important issues in world affairs and in particular, in our region. So much of our media coverage reflects the interests and views of the US. 

Is the Wretched situation in Yemen of no interest to Australians?

The civil war in Yemen has been underway for over a year. In 2015 Saudi Arabia led a coalition of 3 other Arab states and Pakistan in invading and attacking Yemen, its southern neighbor. Saudi’s role was the significantly largest one and by now virtually the only one. What tied this group together was their interest in opposing the growth of Shia influence in the region stretching from Bahrain in the Gulf to Syria in the west. In plain geopolitical terms, the growth of Iranian influence.

The invasion was assisted by the US, mainly through air assistance.

The results of this war and failure of attempts to negotiate an end to it, which have been rendered almost impossible because of the Saudi actions, have been appalling. The barest facts are: 10,000 dead, 2 million displaced, and 14.4 million assessed as food insecure, 7.6 million severely so. Among Saudi actions have been cutting off food supplies to Yemen.

The UN Office of Humanitarian Affairs, and the World Food programme, has informed the UN Security Council that some millions are now facing starvation, within months.

This situation, both the war itself and its wretched outcomes, have received no attention of substance in Australian media. What is regularly reported, in some measure, is the war in Syria and now in particular, the bombing of Aleppo by Syrian and Russian forces. Why is this so?

Presumably, editors, controllers of the news reckon that Australians aren’t interested in Arabs fighting Arabs, in a distant and relatively unknown land, a land that has become unknown, as we now all fly north and we no longer travel to the old dart on steamships, which always stopped at Aden, Yemen.

But Arabs are fighting Arabs in Syria, and the devastation there is also wretched. So, why this discrimination about what we want or need to know?

There are many possible factors influencing this editorial decision, but they certainly include: the Syrian war is now participated in by both the Russians and the Americans, and Australian forces are taking part, in both Syria and the related war in northern Iraq, as the consequence of our government’s interpretation of what the alliance with the US requires.

Some might say that these are comprehensible reasons, but that would ignore two larger concerns.

First, the conflict in Yemen has now become one for influence in the region fought out between Shia and Sunni groups and the larger powers behind them, Iran and Saudi Arabia, and their patrons, Russia and the US. It is evident that the impact of this upon the people of Yemen, is viewed as mere collateral in a more important struggle.

Secondly, what of the profound moral failure that is now in plain sight in Yemen? Does this not matter to Australians? When reasons are sought for US support for Saudi Arabia, a state which does not remotely meet proclaimed US standards of governance and human rights, the only answer which can be given, honestly, is US interests in oil, and massive arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

A question which must be addressed is: what would our government decide if the US asked us, again, to join in its actions in the Middle East, in this case, in support for Saudi actions in Yemen: just another handful of F-18’s, a fuel supply aircraft?

Accurate and wide eyed reporting of the news is crucial to any possibility that our people, might be able to tell our government that decisions on our role in the world can’t just be slipped through without public or parliamentary debate. Our media have that responsibility.

Richard Butler AC was Australian Ambassador to the United Nations.

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