It’s all about media [Archives:2006/1008/Viewpoint]

December 18 2006

The media scene in Yemen is quite active these days. There are workshops, seminars, meetings and informal gatherings to discuss the problems facing journalists and to find solutions, especially for press freedom and professional training. But it is sad to know this is, yet again, just another passing phase of alert and vigor. Perhaps the most crucial problem we face, and which is hardly discussed, is the lack of consistency whether among journalists themselves or that of concerned authorities. The recent judiciary sentences against the three Yemeni newspapers involved in the Danish cartoons fiasco prove the later point clearly. One sentence forbade the editor from writing for one month, with a suspended four-month jail sentences. A second editor was given one year in jail and the paper was closed for six months. And the third newspaper was fined YR 500,000.

The point here is not whether or not there should be such cases, it is about the way the legal system operates in Yemen. The judiciary system is incoherent and without standards. It worries me that we are not sure how the system will react towards media acts they consider a breach of the norm, which is again another question. What is considered professional reporting and what is considered abuse of media freedom?

The other side of the inconsistency is of the people working in Yemeni media. Many journalists and media establishments do not have a clear mission or strategic vision. For example, many political party newspapers prioritise the party's attitudes and perceptions towards professional journalism. The heads of the political parties think their priorities are above fundamental human rights. This point was brought to discussion when the political parties did not live up to their bragged enthusiasm about supporting female candidate in the elections. The argument then was that it was more beneficial for certain political parties to nominate a male candidate than to adhere to political minority rights or adequate representation.

Many newspapers lack vision and they do not learn from previous experiences – even their own. Every time the local media aggressively highlights an issue it becomes the momentary hot topic and then quickly fades away as though it never happened. The problem with Yemeni media is we don't know how to network and lobby for our causes. We don't know how to stick to our demands until they are met. The hype created about the media law, for instant, has quickly faded away. Then the abuse against journalists and violations of their rights has become less of a priority with the passage of time and only when someone is attacked or unjustly imprisoned do we remember to write and condemn the violations.

Yemeni media has so much potential and there is so much to achieve. But unfortunately we are not doing our country and our issues justice. When I was talking to a Lebanese taxi driver about Yemen's donation to two Lebanese villages in the south he said, “We hardly hear about your country, we don't know what you are doing and most of the time you are invisible in the Arab world. Your media is not doing a good job in publicising your country or promoting your deeds.”

That is true, we should start picking the pieces of our fragmented structure and prove ourselves worthy of the profession.