Censorship is backOnce upon a time … [Archives:2005/810/Viewpoint]

January 24 2005

Once upon a time, as the editor of The Yemen Times, I didn't have to worry about the constructive, yet strong criticism that's in opinion articles published in this newspaper. Such articles resulted from my belief in the regime's commitment to democracy and freedom of expression.

Today I don't have that belief any more.

Once upon a time I used to refrain from removing an opinion piece that I knew would trigger some anger of the embassy of an Arab country. But I knew that tolerance and understanding would prevail. So I never removed them.

Today I have to remove them and inform the writer accordingly.

Once upon a time I used to allow my journalists to do investigative stories of grave sensitivity regarding the person of the president.

Today I wouldn't risk doing so, even if the authorities would suggest that the law would protect us.

Once upon a time we felt that the West and the US uplifted ideals of press freedom and democracy. And Europe would convey its dismay and would support the struggle of journalists who may be subject to harassment or oppression.

Today I see that the press community is shocked, dismayed, and disappointed to see the passive response of the West, particularly in the case of the trial of Al-Khaiwani and the other non-governmental journalists.

Once upon a time I was optimistic about the future of my country's democracy and the increasing tolerance in freedom of expression.

Today I am pessimistic.

If you are asking why, then you must have not looked into the news lately.

For me and many other journalists, there is a growing belief that the golden age of Yemen's press is over. In fact, today we are today witnessing the darkest eras of Yemen's recent history in terms of press freedom.

Journalists and editors are more afraid than ever so as not to make the authorities angry and cause closure of newspapers, and the subsequent problems of that, which, besides the reading public losing out, included economic disaster for employees.

When I try to explain the reasons behind this unprecedented level of oppression, I find myself with many questions, but few answers. But I do know that with the ongoing trends continuing, we are destined to lose our professional standards in journalism and return to mere insignificant news providers, giving only half of the truth.

This is unjust to our readers, and part of the blame would be directed to the international community, particularly Western countries who have stood idle watching while a whole country's democracy is falling apart.