18 Nov 2011

How Twitter Got a Reuters Reporter Sacked !

It was just a tweet.. that turned into many tweets.. that turned into a hashtag.. that turned into global noise.. that turned into action. A Twitter Snowball !

That is in a nutshell the story I intend to tell you the way I lived it.

On 11 November Hind Eryani told me on Twitter that Reuters reporter in Yemen was also Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh's personal translator. I doubted she would be right about this because I know Reuters and have always considered it one of the most reliable sources of information in the world. Reuters would not do such a thing.

But as Hind and I discussed it, other Yemenis read our tweets and started sending us evidence. I wondered how come they knew about this but never said a word. I follow the news almost 24 hours a day and I had no idea.

There were even press articles in which the title itself refers to Mohammed Sudam as "Reuters correspondent and the President's Translator" such as this one in Arabic about his kidnap in October.

Anyway I decided to write just 1 or 2 tweets about it, with caution, because I work for a media organisation myself and I usually avoid direct attacks against other media organisations, especially one that I respect-ed very much.

I was truly surprised though. How could Reuters accept to compromise on its ethics by allowing its repoter to work simultaneously for the man at the very centre of events rocking Yemen for the past 9 months?

It did not take long before Hind talked to Marwan Al Muraisy, another Yemeni activist to come up with a cool hashtag.. that is how the Twitter hashtag #ShameOnReuters was born and it immediately started attracting attention. Tweets were flowing in.

I myself forgot about this
 amid other things happening, especially in Syria, and did not contribute to the hashtag. By the next day Hind had already written a blogpost in Arabic: Reuters in the Government's Pocket and so did Noon Arabia, yet another Yemeni activist who wrote in English in Global Voices : Yemen Netcitizens Accuse Reuters of Biased Reporting

And in no time there was a facebook page too Shame On Reuters created by Taha Abdoh

France24 was the first media organisation to pick up the story and report on it in both Arabic and English, at least. 

Some of the tweets were displayed. Hind was interviewed in the Arabic version and she gave an example of what she claimed was false reporting done recently by Reuters about Saleh's intention to resign (again and again!). France24 - Arabic - contacted Reuters about it and Reuters replied with the following statement:
"For more than 160 years, Reuters coverage has been a trusted source in the Middle East. Mohammed Sudam's contributions to the file as a stringer are balanced and meet the high standards we set for the news organization globally"

Interestingly enough, Reuters' first reaction was just like any Arab Leader's first speech in the face of an uprising against him : arrogant, in-denial, careless.

Other non Yemeni bloggers also wrote about it, such as Brian Withaker. I did too, in Arabic. The news was spreading on Twitter and Facebook even more.

Yemeni activists started discussing what else they can do after Reuters' cold response. They consoled each other by saying that at least the world now knows about it. And they kept doing the same thing : tweeting and tweeting about it. 

Until ... the New York Times reported on it : Reuters Reporter Also Works For Yemen's President . When you read the title you realise something is wrong. These two jobs are not compatible, unless the reporter works for the President's media. How could Reuters not see that for so many years?

Then came the Washington Post article : Journalist Working for the Government, No Problem?

And suddenly it hit Reuters. And the following statement was released :

“Sudam’s work as a Reuters stringer over the course of many years has been fair and accurate. When he became a translator for the president, he disclosed his role to Reuters. On reviewing the matter, however, we believe it’s not appropriate to use a stringer who is also working for the government. He is no longer reporting for us from Yemen.”

So, after a first "typical Arab Leader" response, Reuters did not wait till the typical 3rd speech before "stepping down" (as Mubarak and Ben Ali did). May be 
our Arab leaders can learn from Reuters two-speeches-in-one-week stepping-down strategy!  :-)

Once again social media has proven it can bring to light stories not covered by conventional media, or stories about conventional / mainstream media like this one, which mainstream media feel obliged to pick up and cover.

It is the true empowerment of citizens who now have what I call the Fifth Power, which can sometimes shake all other four powers.

Certainly on this one it is quite an achievement for Yemeni activists who are not 
as present on the web as activists from Syria, Bahrain, Tunisia and Eygpt. 


nabil alsoufi said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

heh! No one gets all bent out of shape when they report untruths about conservatives or the republican party. Why is that?

Anonymous said...

What puzzles me is the other side of the question... Why did the President use a translator who'd be reporting every word to Reuters?

Dima Khatib said...

Regarding the last comment, I imagine he must trust him 10000% because the guy goes with him on his trips to the US and elsewhere, is present in high-level meetings with other leaders of the world.. so Saleh must have had FULL trust in the man.. hence the man is HIS and would not fail him, which is why the reporter is not qualified for a job with an agency like Reuters, who I presume thought it was a great source .. but can be a manipulated source too! Tricky