Freedom of the press:Vital for development [Archives:2003/654/Viewpoint]

July 28 2003

It is noticed that Arab countries are slowly adopting democracy, freedom of the press, human rights, and other civil and human values. But it shocked me the most to realize that many Arab leaders are not doing this because they want to, but because they are forced to.
I will take the issue of freedom of the press as an example. I have come to realize that Yemeni authorities are not quite aware of the role the free press can play in promoting economic development. Their main aim in allowing freedom of the press is to let the public 'breathe' after years of silence. “It is a way to get everything out. Let them speak and shout and say whatever they want.” said one official when asked about why Yemen allowed freedom of the press.
Whereas what is supposed to be is that freedom of the press should be a tool not a goal. It is also important that the leadership and authorities believe in the role of the freedom of the press in development. A free press is instrumental to enhance any government's transparency, honesty, efficiency and reliability.
I sincerely hope that our leadership and government would realize that the free press could be a driving force pushing governmental efforts for development and prosperity through its accurate and critical reporting that should indeed be taken seriously by concerned authorities. Ministers and high-ranking officials should always have an office to follow-up articles and reports published in the local press about things that may be related to their services or ministries.
It is a common responsibility of the media and government to work hand in hand with the government to expose the problems faced in Yemen and look for ways to fix them.
In the meantime, greater pressure should be exerted on the government and parliament to allow a decree allowing private electronic media to emerge in the country.
Yemen has great potentials for excellent TV and radio programs that sense the problems of the people and reflect them in objective programs that push for reform and honesty and fight corruption and inefficiency.
The president is keen and clever enough to realize that the freedom of the press could be a tool to monitor and ensure better services from his government, which should be accountable to him and to the people. I believe he will understand that the free press is not merely a means to shout and criticize. It is also a tool to build and improve standards of living.
It is only up to our president and government to respond positively to newspapers that are responsible and committed to the development of Yemen, and hence to enhance our country and bring the change urgently needed.