Just for the sake of official media coverage [Archives:2003/668/Viewpoint]

September 15 2003

The conference organized by Yemen Times during 13-15 September in Yemen in cooperation with Friedrich Ebert Stiftung has demonstrated an important fact to all.
When no one came to represent the government in the opening ceremony, due to emergency obligations, some thought the event could become less significant.
What I realized is that many people started talking in town about how the newspaper managed on its own to open the event with splendid attendance and excellent quality.
“If you had such a successful opening session without any representative of the government, why then invite some officials to inaugurate your activities in the future?” said one of the guests to the conference. He suggested that any official or representative of the government will add little to the success of this great activity.
When thinking about it for a moment I thought about the reasons why we in the Arab world tend to invite officials all the time to inaugurate or open our activities. Is it a habit, or is to show loyalty?
The conclusion I arrived to was so simple, “To get coverage in the media.” Yes indeed, all official media organizations in the country and in many other Arab countries would not cover an event no matter how important it is unless it is being organized under the auspices of an official or attended by an official.
This is exactly the problem we suffer from in the Arab world when we talk about freeing the media. Imagining a massive international conference held by a local NGO or a network of NGOs in Sana’a without the auspices of any official. The news item about this huge event may never find its way on the front page of the official daily, it may be thrown in any of the inside pages, if mentioned at all. On the other hand, insignificant news about congratulatory letters from heads of state may be on top of the front page.
Our problem in the Arab world is that our official media is living far behind most of the world. They are on the same tone set up tens of years ago. They continue to broadcast their TV news in the same fashion with priority given to what heads of states do and what they don’t, leaving behind all the other more significant news items.
Until when will our official media stay behind?
Why can’t the official media see where the world is going and cope with the global changes around them?
I certainly believe that this phenomenon is temporary and will fade away sooner or later. Signs are already coming. Looking at the ratings of Arab satellite TV channels, we can clearly see that official channels receive the lowest ratings of all, and their ratings are even going down deeper. Even officials that I know have many times admitted that their official channel it is the least channel they would like to watch.
Slowly the same thing will take place in the printed press. Time will come when independent or opposition newspapers emerge to become more powerful and can carry out greater activities compared to the local press.
It is already happening in Yemen. Looking at the number of readers of Al-Ayyam daily and comparing it to official newspapers, one would understand that the readership of Al-Ayyam is in increase while that of official newspapers is decreasing.
The threat will be even more evident when such independent newspapers prosper and grow to compete even more, then readership-wise, it would not be as important to have news items of the inauguration of a certain official on official media because not many would be interested.
I am sure time will prove how right my opinion is, and then, believe me, not many people will go around running after patronage of our officials.