Dr. Mohamed Abdulgabbar Sallam at the Press Freedom Seminar: “Yemen Times is the Only Institutionalized Newspaper in Yemen” [Archives:2000/24/Law & Diplomacy]

June 12 2000

Jalal Al-Sharaabi
Yemen Times
The conference on Press Freedom started with a speech on the present and future prospects of the Yemeni Press by Mr. Abdulwahhab Al-Rawhani, Member of Parliament and Chairman of the Information Committee of the Parliament. He emphasized the strong link between Yemeni unity and democracy and Freedom of the Press in Yemen. As he said, “Unity and democracy came to open up new and wide horizons for freedom of expression and press in an unprecedented manner for politicians and media people. Despite the little experience in implementing democracy and freedom of the press, like other countries in the Arab region, Yemen was able to implement radical changes in favor of improving Press Freedom. This was due to the fact that Journalists and Press in general are getting great attention from President Ali Abdullah Saleh. This was evident also because democracy and freedom in all its forms are currently deeply rooted in the Yemeni constitution.”Mr. Al-Rawhani indicated that the seminar was a great occasion to expand the journalism-related issues. Well-trained and educated journalists in government offices before unity constituted only 20% of the journalists, while the remaining 80% depended on their experience.”On the present situations relating to the Press in Yemen he said that the Ministry of Information’s latest figures show that there are currently 225 publications, of which 128 have permissions. There are 26 publications managed by the government while there are 24 publications by public related committees and establishments. On the other hand, there are more than 36 newspapers issued by political parties and party-oriented organizations. Among these newspapers, 3 are daily (governmental), 79 are weekly, 68 monthly, 23 seasonal, and 7 periodical.
Al-Rawhani raised the question regarding how the newspaper-reading population, which is no more than 5% of the whole population, would interact and benefit from this large number of newspapers. He brought about shocking statistics showing that the most prominent newspapers (governmental) are the least to distribute their issues in Aden. The newspaper that had the least circulation in Aden was ironically the official newspaper of the government. It only circulated 200 copies in the whole city. On the other hand,the circulation of Al-Ayyam newspaper for example,exceeded 11,000 copies. The same applies for Arab and foreign newspapers, as they distribute more than 93,000 copies, 84% of them being read by the public.
In his conclusion, he indicated that the average Yemeni reader looks to important news, the news that is interesting, accurate, and unbiased. This, in itself, is not available in very many Yemeni newspapers.
Mr. Al-Rawhani gave an example of the exaggeration and inaccuracy in news items by Yemeni newspapers and expressed his disappointment in the fact that only two newspapers reported the story of Mohamed Adem in an accurate and unexaggerated manner. It was later mentioned by Walid Al-Saqqaf, that Yemen Times was one of them. He repeatedly explained that the Yemeni “Yellow” newspapers are below the international standard in almost all aspects and should try to rise to the expected level of quality of these newspapers.
He concluded his statement by explaining the appropriate measures to be taken to raise the standard of Yemeni newspapers. These measures include benefiting from Arab and regional experiences of other prominent newspapers in the region, emphasizing accuracy which should be prioritized, and imparting appropriate training to raise the professional competence of journalists.
Afterwards, Mr. Walid Abdulaiz Al-Saqqaf, Chief Editor of Yemen Times gave a speech about the challenges facing the private press enterprise. In his speech, he started by responding to Mr. Al-Rawhani by claiming that it is impossible for Yemeni newspapers with their limited financial and human resources to rise to the level of international standards. He explained that this applies to all the institutions in Yemen, including the media consisting of the radio and Television. “We cannot expect a newspaper such as Al-Wahdawi to rise to the level of “Roasalyousif” while Sanaa TV Channel cannot rise to the level of MBC.”
Later Mr. Walid continued by listing the obstacles faced by the private press. “First we should always begin with the financial resources. Any newspaper needs financing to continue and continue strongly. Unless it develops its own resources, it cannot continue successfully.” He gave Yemen Times as an example of a newspaper that neither depends on foreign nor on local funding. It only depends on its own financial resources through advertisements. YT developed an efficient and strong commercial based self-financing mechanism that enables it to strengthen its capacity building mechanisms and raise its quality every year. According to Mr. Saqqaf, another obstacle is the lack of information, as Yemen is among the countries that is not used to holding press conferences and issuing press releases frequently. Until this very moment, there is yet no mechanism to assign quick coverage to events such as kidnappings, disasters, and other eventualities, while there are always news items about new governmental projects, accomplishments, inaugurations, etc. This is not true journalism. This obviously encourages private newspapers to seek alternative sources of information, which sometimes are inaccurate, resulting in publication of exaggerated information, or even misinformation.
“The lack of appropriate and world standard printing units in Yemen is a further challenge for private newspapers.” Said Mr. Saqqaf. ” The limited financing of these establishments makes it difficult for them to obtain printing units for their newspapers. Hence, such newspapers have to print their issues in a separate printing house, some of which are owned by the government. This causes delay and degrades overall quality of the newspaper. This is not a challenge that can be overcome by efforts of the newspapers alone, but can be combated by joint efforts by the government by providing loans and facilities for these newspapers to obtain their own printing units, and by increasing the overall quality of service of available printing houses.
Another challenge that Mr. Saqqaf identified was the honesty, integrity, and total independence. It is not easy for a newspaper to be unbiased and independent in all sectors all the time, as there are several factors that push it towards one side or the other. According to press analysts, the most successful newspapers, throughout modern history, were the independent and honest newspapers reporting news without any alteration, making it a continuously trustworthy source of information.
Then he described how Yemen Times is a newspaper that has gone through many difficult times because of its strong and unbiased stand towards national issues. This resulted in the harassment of the newspaper during several stages of its history. Until today, Yemen Times continues to publish accurate and unbiased articles without thinking of the consequence. Hence, it has gained the respect of the readers and has become more popular and trustworthy than any other Yemeni newspaper in English.” He added that the most important constraint behind the hesitation of some writers to write bold and courageous articles, even if based on correct information, is the judicial constraints that limit authentic news and views from being published.
In his concluding statement, Chief Editor of YT, Walid Al-Saqqaf expressed the hope in that the last and most important challenge of finding qualified, professional, and skillful employees will be met in future with the help of the Faculty of Information, Sanaa University. He explained that for Yemen Times, finding appropriately trained journalists is even more difficult because it requires proficiency in English . The human resources in this field are extremely inadequate, and need development through various activities. Mr. Saqqaf finally surprised the participants by breaking news of a workshop that YT is planning to organize during the summer in cooperation with JEMSTONE.
The last speaker in the seminar was Mr. Mohamed Yahya Al-Sabri, GM of the Information Committee of Sanaa University. He gave a speech about the factors influencing party-oriented newspapers in Yemen.
Mr. Sabri said, “I believe we cannot understand the problems of the party-oriented press without understanding the concepts of the freedom of press. The freedom of press could only be achieved by presenting the news to the reader in an accurate, independent, and unbiased matter. Unfortunately, we in Yemen, do not have this mentality. Most party-oriented press only present half of the truth, and exaggerates most of the time just to adjust the news items to suit their political party’s interest.”
Mr. Sabri indicated that the main factors behind the failure of party-oriented newspapers to get the truth of the public is their biased reporting and the inaccurate information provided. He summarized the factors under three headings: judicial factors, administrative and political factors, and party-oriented factors. All these factors, each in its own way, affect the credibility of the news items published, and create less overall trust in readers minds about the true dimensions of the news items.
Regarding the judicial constraints, Mr. Sabri explained that the limits that the journalist or writer should not exceed are not well defined. This is the major reason behind the award of prison sentences to journalists and closure of newspapers. Another factor is the double standard and discriminatory treatment to governmental newspapers that are defaming other newspapers and escaping without punishment, while other papers are prosecuted. This significantly limits the freedom of the writer, especially of party-oriented newspapers.
The political factors are imposed by the involvement of Ministry of Information in the internal affairs of other newspapers, which sometimes results in the closure of these newspapers.
The party-oriented factors are the strongest reason for the distrust of the readers as it forces the writer to write articles in a biased manner usually in the interest of the party ignoring all the others. This causes the readership to decrease or be limited to those having the political affiliation to the party in question.
Mr. Sabri concluded that apart from all these factors, party-oriented newspapers are also affected by the low level of professionalism in their staff in terms of skills of journalism. This results in the downfall in the professional level the party-oriented newspapers causing them to be among the least credible newspapers, not in Yemen alone, but in a global context.
After all the speeches were over, the Dean of the faculty thanked the participants and added that “10 years is not a short period. It may be a short period in a global sense, but for Yemen it is quite a long period in which we have experienced a lot and learned a lot.
We have always dreamed about unity, and now that we are living in its 10th year, we realize the fruits it has given us, among which is the freedom of expression.”
Then Dr. Mohamed Abdulgabbar Sallam, a prominent figure in the faculty, and the Chief Editor of the “Kalima” newspaper concluded the proceedings by suggesting about a key reason for the current situation of the press in Yemen. “If we are talking about institutionalized press in Yemen in both its private and party-oriented sectors, there is only one single and sole newspaper in the whole country which is institutionalized, and that is Yemen Times. Unfortunately, the newspapers today are no more than shop-like newspapers that lack the true sense of journalism. Journalism in the sixties and seventies was in its peak and in its most professional excellence, despite the small staff they had. Today, the large number and low quality of services provided shows the true level of journalism in Yemen. It means that journalism in Yemen is truly in an extremely low level.”At the end of the seminar, the participants and a number of teachers in the university, including Dr. Sallam0 received honorary certificates for their active role in the event and in various other activities of the faculty.