Is there such a thing as independent journalism? [Archives:2007/1013/Viewpoint]

January 4 2007

At the Yemen Times, we continue priding ourselves on being an independent media outlet and following our mission no matter what. This independence has provided us immunity and respect. On any issue, both sides know we write objectively and try to promote the good in all situations for the sake of humanity in general.

However, when I was in Lebanon recently, I asked a security officer at the airport's passport control about Lebanese media, “As a reader, how many of your media outlets do you feel are independent?” He replied, “There's no such thing as independent media because they all have certain obligations and constraints.”

That got me thinking about the Yemen Times. I've been running this newspaper for nearly two years now, so I know what pressures it faces. Yet, I still can say that we're fairly independent, at least politically. Regarding political news, we're tops in objectivity, but what about the other domains? Life isn't only about politics and our coverage includes so much more.

Honestly, I've realized that there are pressures against being independent, but surprisingly, they have nothing to do with the government or the ruling system. Rather, they include economic pressures from clients and advertisers, without whose support we wouldn't exist. I've witnessed that we're sometimes obliged to run stories for commercial purposes or to please clients, regardless of their journalistic significance.

There's also societal pressure regarding sensitive matters. For example, we recently ran a story about a seminar on marital sexual and emotional relations. I was surprised to get feedback from some of our rather conservative readers telling us to “back off” of such topics. There's also cultural pressure when it comes to other religions, especially after the Danish cartoon fiasco. Before running any store, we now ask ourselves a thousand times whether it will hurt the feelings of any particular religion, sect or spiritual group.

In accepting opinion pieces from writers around the world, we must be very careful that we don't encourage hatred or instigate conflicts. Although such articles are the sole responsibility of their writers, I feel that as a medium for their words and thoughts, we also must take responsibility regarding what we allow in our newspaper.

So, are we really independent? Or is it just that our margin of freedom is wider and more visible than that of others? I still claim that we're the most independent newspaper in Yemen, but I question myself at times about the self-censorship we apply when we shepherd the newspaper's content to be in line with our mission statement, as well as the law. Should it be unlimited freedom or is there a boundary? And if there must be boundaries, who decides what they are? This will always remain the dilemma of free press.