Hand extended to government [Archives:2003/668/Reportage]

September 15 2003

In his speech during the opening ceremony, Dr. Paul Pasch of the Friedrich Ebert Stiftung confirmed that the conference was aimed at building “bridges between Arab governments and free media towards achieving greater economic development in the Arab world.”
In his statement to participants and guests, Mr. Mahboob Ali, Chairman of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate also focused on the need to bring the media and Arab governments closer together to achieve what is best for Arab nations. “We see that the influence of the media has become strong and immense in many countries throughout the world. It is time that we join forces and build bridges of understanding and cooperation between the media and governments just to cope with the needs of today’s world.”
The conference, which will be concluded today, will bring about recommendations on how to establish a better and solid role of the media in promoting economic developments.

The sessions
The first session of the conference held on Saturday included working papers presented by Dr. Mohammed Abdulrasheed of Aden University on “Means and tools that can be used by the free Arab media in supporting economic development.” In his paper, Dr. Abdulrasheed argued that there were several ways to assist economic development. “There are direct and indirect ways to achieve that. Among the direct ways are the immediate effect media reports have on supporting certain companies or goods, and promoting certain investment fields by providing publicity and information. Indirectly, the media can be an opinion maker and raise awareness among the public about values such as democracy and elections. When citizens are aware of elections for example, they could elect those who have the skills and qualifications to carry out the positive reforms needed for the society.”
The second paper was presented by Mr. Walid Abdulaiz Al-Saqqaf, Editor-in-Chief of the Yemen Times, on “Steps to be taken for the media to support economic development.” In his presentation, Al-Saqqaf put stress on the priority to free journalists from strings attached to them, which consequently prevent them from reporting accurately. He said that the main idea behind freedom of the press comes in financial independence, professionalism, and political independence. This would give media enterprises the means and motives to report on financial corruption, mismanagement, anti-investor regulations, and other issues that hinder economic development. “There should be serious steps taken to reform press laws and regulations and reform the judicial system before journalists can write freely and hence become active in supporting economic development.”
Al-Saqqaf also emphasized the role businessmen play in supporting the media by marketing through them to build their capacity and benefit from their growth. “Companies and media establishments can help each other grow” he said. Furthermore he noted that the donor community and international organizations have a major role to play by supporting independent media morally and financially through capacity building projects, financial assistance, training, and free consultations.
“But all of this cannot happen unless the government respects the media and becomes convince of the role it could play in this regard.” he concluded.
The Italian Ambassador to Yemen H.E. Mr. Giacomo Sanfelice di Monteforte gave a presentation on “European perspective: Is lack of media freedom a factor behind poor economic performance in the Arab world?”
In his speech, the ambassador gave a briefing on the European example and the freedom of media in the European Union. He stressed on the fact that Europe’s economic growth was possible due to the high level of democracy and freedom lived in Europe. “Freedom of the media for the EU is very much central in the multiple European activities.” he said.
As for the Arab world, Mr. Monteforte concluded in his paper that human development is the essence and basic of development in all other sectors for the Arab world. He obtained this conclusion from the Arab Human Development Report 2002, which said that ‘the pattern of economic growth in the Arab region in the last three decades resulted in fluctuating performance….Growth in the Arab countries has been hampered by low and declining labour productivity.”
Mr. Monteforte concluded his paper by stressing that “the social and cultural development of the people is of critical importance: Liberating human capabilities through good governance and human development in the Arab world is very likely to be the challenge ahead for achieving better development performances.”
“To this end, there is no possible doubt that the freedom of media can play a critical role.” After all, the “media are the mirror in which every country sees itself” and hence, free media, according to Mr. Monteforte, is of major significance “in the determination of the economic performances of every country.”

In the second session entitled “The Arab Media as an observer and analyst”, a papers was given by Dr. Taha Al-Fussail of Sana’a University on the “Free Arab media’s role in questioning Arab governments and point to financial and administrative corruption plus monitor economic performance” and another paper was given on “The free media’s role in reviving economic activities in the Arab world” given by Dr. Hussein Jaghman of the Media Training Institute.
The two papers had similar contents on the need to have the media analyze economic information and present it in plain language to the public to provide a complete picture that reflects reality.
“Economic media are still inexistent in the Arab world, and I believe we will wait far too long before they can be achieved.” Dr. Taha said.
On the other hand, Dr. Jaghman stressed on the fact that vulnerable and weak media cannot help promote economic activities because they have in themselves failed to achieve financial independence and capacity building. “How can the media help in reviving economies of Arab countries if they are helpless and economically not viable?” he asked.

The second day witnessed nine papers discussing various topics concerning the role of the free Arab media in economic development.
The first session of the second day was on “Relations between Arab governments and Free Arab media” and had the following papers:
1- “Partnership, not enmity” between governments and free media in the Arab world (how to notify and convince governments of the importance of free media to support the economy) by Mr. Qadiri Ahmed Haidar of the Yemeni Center for Studies and Research.
2- Importance of transparency and giving information in Arab governments and how the media can benefit from such transparency by Dr. Mohammed Abduljabbar Sallam, Vice Dean of College of Information, Sana’a University.
3- Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel’s prospective: Role of the free Arab TV networks in supporting economic development in Arab countries by Mr. Sameer Khidr, Al-Jazeera Satellite Channel

The second session of the second day was on the “Influence of professional journalism and electronic (Radio, TV) free Arab media in economic development” and had the following papers:
1- Need to liberate electronic Arab media (TV, radio) besides printed press to support economic development by Dr. Omar Thabet of the Faculty of Information, Sana’a University.
2- Role of professional journalism, credibility and responsibility in promoting and enhancing Arab economies by Mr. Abdulbari Taher of the Yemeni Center for Studies and Research.
3- Iraqi free media’s role in rebuilding a strong Iraqi economy by Mr. Saad Al-Bazzaz, Editor-in-Chief of Azzaman Newspaper

The third and final session of the second day was on “Free Arab media and developed countries” and had the following papers:
1- Role of the international organizations and donor countries to empower free Arab media to be an active player in Arab economies by Mr. Mohammed Al-Sabiri, Sana’a University.
2- Learning from successful experiences of modern countries, whose free media had a role in developing the economy by Dr. Abdullah Al-Zalab, the General Manager of the Media Training Institute.
3- How to reform Arab laws according to international standards with a view of model laws in the developed world (Jordan perspective) by Mr. Khaled Al-Zubaidi, the Managing Editor of Amman-based Addustour Newspaper

The third and final day of the conference to be held today will be covering the aspects of globalization and the World Bank’s book, “The Right to Tell” which revolves around the idea of the conference.
During the day, there will be only one session entitled “Economy, Media, and Globalization” and will include three working papers.
The first working paper will be “Argument on political and economic dimensions in the Arab media” to be presented by Dr. Hassan Znined of the German Network Deutsche Welle (DW).
The second working paper will be on “Economic media in a globalizing world” to be given by Mr. Walid Chuqair, Al-Hayat Newspaper’s Beirut Bureau Manager.
The third and final paper of the conference will be presented by Mr. Robert Hindle, the Resident Representative of the World Bank office in Sana’a and will be on the World Bank and its book “The Right to Tell”.

It is expected that the conference will be a foundation stone for future works in this particular field, focusing on cooperation between the media and government, especially as many officials have expressed gratitude and appreciation to the organizers of the event due to its importance in bringing forward ideas dealt with for the first time in the country and the Arab world.