Maintaining State monopoly over broadcast media Journalists reject draft press law [Archives:2005/837/Front Page]

April 28 2005

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
Almost all media professionals in Yemen have been disappointed. They truly rejected the draft press and publication law that the ministry of information has come up with. The draft law, which the Yemen Journalists Syndicate (YJS) is expected to start debating on it today, is worse than the previous one, which is in effect now. The draft law which has completely been described as totalitarian, ignored the question of the electronic media freedom, putting an end to the state ownership and monopoly over broadcast media. Rather, it went on controlling the websites just like print media.

Yemen co-hosted, along with the UN, UNESCO and many local and international media and NGOs, a seminar on “Promoting Independent and Pluralistic Arab Media” in January of 1996. This resulted in the Sana'a Declaration, which called upon all the government members of the UNESCO and UN to promote independent and pluralistic media, as well as to allow private ownership of the press, radio and television. The Sana'a Declaration was later adopted as a binding document of the UNESCO by all state members, including Yemen.

“It seems that the ministry of information has not read between the lines of the president's instruction that the new law should be improved to cope with the new developments both at regional and international levels,” said Saeed Thabet, first deputy of the syndicate chairman. “The ministry abolished the clause concerning jail sentence of journalists while putting the profession through this draft in a real chains of restrictions and taboos. ” He even called for freeing state-run print media institutions as in democratic societies, governments do not own media.

Journalists feel, after reading the draft law, that the ministry of information has made use of the violations that journalists went through since unification in 1990, turning all the points of disagreements legal terms on the basis of which journalists are held accountable. This draft has not included a chapter for taboos and restrictions which were put in 11 articles in the current law but these restrictions and prohibitions are now found everywhere in the draft, which has granted the ministry of information more and more privileges, putting it in control of the media community. The ministry has the right to issue press facility cards as well as licenses for starting a newspaper or a magazine. The minister is to issue a by-law in which he will define conditions of granting and withdrawing such cards.

The draft law granted journalists freedom to operate “within the limits of the law”. There are several articles that restrict journalists and their work, necessitating the affiliation of journalists to the YJS, despite the fact that membership to any NGO is voluntary. What is funny about this is that the law has included a chapter on the YJS, but its board members have not been consulted when preparing this draft, rather the ministry worked it out secretly. The YJS, according to the draft law, is to endorse a code of ethics for media professionals, but the draft law turned these kinds of ethical commitments into legal terms for which journalists should be held accountable.

Among the taboos and prohibitions that journalists cannot go beyond are; that they can not “criticize the head of the state” as well as “publishing or exchanging anything that directly and personally prejudices monarchs and heads of brotherly and friendly states.” “This draft law released the journalist as an individual from jail, but on the other hand put freedom of speech in a real cage,” Ali al-Jaradi of al-Nass Weekly summarized the demerits of the draft law.

With regards to the foreign and Arab journalists working in Yemen, the draft law has stipulated that they should be registered with institutions organizing work in the media in their countries and that they should obtain a license from the ministry of information if they want to move in the country and do some coverage. The ministry has the right to call off their license of work without mentioning the reasons.

Although the current law No. 25 of 1990, imposed huge financial burdens involved in starting a paper, the Minister of Information's Decree No. 9 for 1998 states that “for establishing a paper or a magazine, the publisher's capital should amount to YR 2 million for a daily newspaper, YR 700,000 for a Weekly paper, YR 1.2 million for a Weekly magazine and a periodical, YR 100,000 for an Advertisement Bulletin.” Yet, the new draft law has stipulated that the publisher should have a deposit in a Yemeni bank no less than YR 5 million for an individual and no less than YR 15 million for an establishment, whose capital should be no less than YR 7 million. Such conditions will be, according to the draft law, applicable also to websites that are to be controlled by the government. This has made it difficult for people to start newspapers and magazines or even run websites.

This draft law has really, according to journalists, shown the attitude of the political regime towards media freedom to which Yemen committed itself in several international conferences. It is expected that campaigns against the draft law will be run during the coming days, demanding the liberalization of media in the country. Some international organizations operating in Yemen have shown interest in backing up the journalists in their struggle for a more liberal press law, despite that some do not find it necessary to have a law for press at large.