Law or no law that is the question [Archives:2007/1037/Viewpoint]

March 29 2007

A recent discussion session among journalists revealed again the hesitation of Yemeni media to take matters into its own hands. Some journalists were unaware of the disadvantages of the current press code, others didn't want it changed fearing the alternative would be worse. Some journalists didn't think a law entitling them to the right to information was necessary and the list goes on.

What is even more alarming is the depression of the Yemeni media and its pessimism towards change. Many Yemeni journalists do not perceive themselves as agents of change; in fact, at times, they are the first to oppose it. And when a bright side is brought to our attention, it usually comes from comparing our situation to countries of worse democracies, in order to feel good about ourselves.

The differentiating factor among journalists lies in one word, exposure. You don't feel bad for not having what you don't know. In other words, many Yemeni journalists and even common people have not enjoyed the freedom of expression in any form in their lives, and have not experienced the ability to demand information and get it. This is why a concept such as holding a Minister accountable to revealing state related information is almost a taboo, and practicing journalism without constraints is unheard of. In many developed democracies there is no media law and journalists are governed by the civil law just like any other citizens, because all people have the right to express themselves and being a journalists anyone can write or be a journalist if they have what it takes. “What do you mean there should / could be no law. How is the media going to be controlled?” was the reaction to the suggestion of eliminating the Yemeni press code. It would be much easier to get rid of it all together than to amend all the constraining articles in it.

However, unfortunately the agents of change in Yemen are still getting acquainted with their role. It might take another two or three decades to start living it for real.