Media investment and modification of press law [Archives:2007/1072/Front Page]

July 30 2007

Amel Al-Ariqi
SANA'A, July 28 ) A Yemeni official revealed the government will carry out a new series of reforms over the next three years regarding investment in mass media.

“The government, through applying its reforms program, will encourage investment in different fields including investment in the media field. It will remove any restrictions against setting up private TV channels and radio stations,” Planning and International Cooperation Minister Abdul-Karim Al-Arhabi said in an interview with official Yemeni agency SABA.

Al-Arhabi confirmed in an interview published Saturday that the second stage of the national reforms agenda would include modifications to the press law. Adjustments would include ensuring the ability to receive and exchange information, protection of journalists, and promotion of press freedom, in all mass media including print and electronic media.

The minister's statement came during review of his ministry's reforms agenda for 2007-2009, which will be referred to the government for discussion and approval.

There are currently only two T.V. channels in Yemen, one located in Sana'a, which is a starlit channel, and the other based in Aden. There is no law regarding running a T.V. radio station in Yemen.

Arab Press Freedom Watch report, in its 2006 coverage of freedom of expression in Yemen, concluded that despite a promise made by the Yemeni president Ali Abdullah Saleh to reform media laws and abolish the imprisonment penalty for publishing offences, Yemeni journalists continue to be subjected to violation by the government, the ruling party, opposition parties and religious groups.

Recently journalists and human rights activists staged a sit-in demanding the right to obtain visual and audio media, besides releasing the SMS news services and E-media, which were shut down by the government. The journalists also requested the government to carry out the press law's articles, which ensure the right to obtain media websites as well as protect press freedom of expression. Such demands continue to be made at sit-ins and marches organized by journalists and civil originations.

The demands of the journalists were referred to Parliament last week, when parliament members asked the government – represented by the Ministry of Information – to provide more detailed explanations of the situation.

A parliament member accused the Ministry of Information of managing the media in a totalitarian fashion, without regard for media law and the constitution. He further accused the minister of information Hassan Al-Lawzi of inappropriately shutting down SMS news services and blocking websites. Some members demanded abolishment of the ministry and many stated that Al-Lawzi should not shut down any news service without a judicial order. Al-Lawzi in turn asked all of the MPs to help and support application of the media law on all media outlets that do not possess a proper license, claiming that procedures of the ministry in shutting down certain websites and SMS news services were justifiable based on the law that obliges all media to have a license before embarking in its activity. This is even if they were publishing positive and important information.