In recent weeks the BBC has produced two backgrounders concerning the ongoing war in Yemen.
An article headlined “Yemen crisis: Who is fighting whom?” was promoted in the ‘Features’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on October 14th and a week later – on October 21st – a filmed item titled “Yemen crisis: ‘The forgotten war’” also appeared on the same page, as well as on BBC television.
Both those items include statements relating to Iranian involvement in the conflict in Yemen. In the filmed report Mai Norman tells viewers:
“But just like Syria and Iraq, regional power struggles are also at play and in the Middle East that almost always means Saudi Arabia and Iran. The Saudis back Hadi and they accuse Iran – a Shia country – of supporting the Houthis.” [emphasis added]
Readers of the written article are told that:
“Alarmed by the rise of a group they believed to be backed militarily by regional Shia power Iran, Saudi Arabia and eight other mostly Sunni Arab states began an air campaign aimed at restoring Mr Hadi’s government.” […]
“The conflict between the Houthis and the elected government is also seen as part of a regional power struggle between Shia-ruled Iran and Sunni-ruled Saudi Arabia.
Gulf Arab states have accused Iran of backing the Houthis financially and militarily, though Iran has denied this, and they are themselves backers of President Hadi.” [emphasis added]
This is not the first time that audiences have seen the BBC’s apparent inability to inform its audiences whether or not the Houthis in Yemen are backed by Iran expressed in such vague and unhelpful language. A similar portrayal was found in a backgrounder titled “Yemen crisis: Who are the Houthis?” that was originally published in September 2014 and which was later replaced with an earlier version of this latest written backgrounder. In April 2015 BBC audiences saw further ambiguous portrayal in two articles and the following month they were told that the role of Iran in Yemen is ‘over-emphasised’.
Both before and since the March 2015 escalation of the conflict in Yemen, numerous reports concerning Iranian support for the Houthis have emerged (see ‘related articles’ below). Reuters recently reported a rise in the supply of weapons from Iran.
“Iran has stepped up weapons transfers to the Houthis, the militia fighting the Saudi-backed government in Yemen, U.S., Western and Iranian officials tell Reuters, a development that threatens to prolong and intensify the 19-month-old war. […]
“We are aware of a recent increased frequency of weapons shipments supplied by Iran, which are reaching the Houthis via the Omani border,” a Western diplomat familiar with the conflict told Reuters.
Three U.S. officials confirmed that assertion.
One of those officials, who is familiar with Yemen, said that in the past few months there had been a noticeable increase in weapons-smuggling activity.
“What they’re bringing in via Oman are anti-ship missiles, explosives…, money and personnel,” the official said.
Another regional security source said the transfers included surface-to-surface short-range missiles and small arms.
A senior Iranian diplomat confirmed there had been a “sharp surge in Iran’s help to the Houthis in Yemen” since May, referring to weapons, training and money.”
A US State Department spokesman addressed the same issue on October 20th:
“I mean, we’re aware that Iran provides lethal support to the Houthis. We have regularly and routinely called on regional actors to de-escalate the tensions in Yemen and the region, including abiding by the relevant UN Security Council resolutions, as well as the ceasefire, which both the – all parties have said they would support.
We’ve also repeatedly raised our concerns that Iran is providing lethal aid to the Houthis in Yemen, including at the UN, when dhows smuggling Iranian weapons to the Houthis were interdicted at sea.”
Remarkably, after over eighteen months of reporting on the conflict in Yemen, the self-styled “standard-setter for international journalism” is still unable to meet its remit of building “global understanding” of this particular “international issue” by producing a backgrounder which tells its audiences whether or not Iran is involved in that war.