Media Specialists & Professionals Call on the State to End Its Monopoly on Radio & TV Stations! [Archives:1999/21/Culture]

May 24 1999

The Republic of Yemen is slowly trying to find its way to a new system – democracy. The regime is constantly torn between those who are comfortable with the old ways and in which they have deep-rooted economic and power interests, and those who call for continued progress in the nation’s march forward to join the world community and the 21st century. 
One manifestation of this power struggle has to do with freedom of the press and the media. 
The Republic of 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 Sanaa Declaration, which called on all member governments of the UNESCO and UN to promote independent and pluralist media, and to allow private ownership of the press, radio and television. 
The Sanaa Declaration was later adopted as a binding document of the UNESCO by all member states, including Yemen. 
More down three years down the road, the Government of Yemen continues to stall and waver in its commitment. 
1. The Yemen Times had applied two years ago to start a small FM radio station in Sanaa. The Minister of Information said he was unable to act on the request as there was no law to offer guidelines to exercise this right. But he has failed to initiate any action to enact such law. 
2. In the meanwhile, the College of Journalism at Sanaa University applied to operate a small radio/television station as a training facility to its students. Again it couldn’t be done. 
3. Several weeks back, the Science and Technology University rector wrote to the minister to request permission to operate a small radio station for the students. Again, the minister simply said there was no law to govern such an activity. 
Given the lack of interest on the part of the Minister of Information to promote more independent and pluralist media, especially in the electronic field, Yemen Times called for a brain-storming session to discuss this matter. Professors of journalism, leading media personalities, the President of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, several columnists and public figures, as well as the Minister of Information and several of his assistants were invited to a discussion followed by a business lunch – both hosted by Yemen Times. The minister and his team never showed up. Everybody else did. 
Ms. Khairiyah Al-Shabibi and Mr. Yasser Mohammed Ahmed of Yemen Times offer below a summary of the important and lively discussions. 
Discussant #1: 
Dr. Mohammed Abdul-Jabbar Sallam, former Dean of the College, and presently Head of Press Department, College of Journalism, Sanaa University 
Let me start with the broad issues. According to the constitution and Yemeni laws, it is the right of the Yemeni people to establish various kinds of media. The right to establish private radio and television stations is especially important in light of the preponderant and one-sided domination of the state radio and television stations by political parties. Moreover, in a society characterized by a high level of illiteracy, the reach of the press can only extend so far. 
There are, however, several basic rules and guidelines that need to be in place. Another problem is the mechanisms that are needed to control the electronic media and to verify their contents. 
Discussant # 2: 
Dr. Mohammed Al-Hoothi, Head of the Radio and TV Department, Journalism College, Sanaa University. 
There is need to empower the Yemeni people by allowing them to operate radio and television stations. But, I warn against the possible dangers of this since private radio stations can add fuel to an already flammable situation. 
In principle, I support the right of private owners to invest in such projects. In practice, however, we really need very specific and stiff regulations so that this right is not abused. That is why I think we should first start by licensing independent non-political bodies to own/operate radio stations. We also have to enforce national fixed norms and values. 
Discussant # 3: 
Dr. Ahmed Ba-Sardah, 
former Dean of Sanaa University’s Journalism College, and Professor at the Science and Technology University.  
The world is about to enter the 21st century, and we are as yet unable to allow people to exercise their rights. I do not like the word “control,” because guidelines and regulations are intended to enable some people to control others. If some people make mistakes in exercising a certain right, then they should be held liable by law. But we should not use this as an excuse to block people from using their rights. 
Actually, private stations will raise the level of service to the public. Competition between state and private stations will bring out the best in both. I say, let us go for it. 
Discussant # 4: 
By: Dr. Khaled Al-Hamdani, Dean, College of Journalism, Sanaa University. 
The performance of any system really depends on the underlying values. The performance of the media will depend directly on the ethics and values of the people involved with it. Let us look at the values embedded in our society. That is the basis. 
One important value I want to single out is tolerance. I believe this is the most important of all values in political exchange. 
Discussant # 5: 
Prof. Abubakar Al-Qirby, Member of the Political Bureau of the ruling PGC Party, and Member of the Consultative Council.  
Let us not discuss whether the people have the right to start private radio and television stations or not. This is a given fact. But let us focus on how to go about this. Specifically, let us address the pros and cons of embarking on it at this time. 
The democratization process of our country requires that the momentum continues by opening up more. That is why we need to make more progress in this field. But how to go about it? 
Discussant # 6: 
Ahmed Al-Kibsi, Diplomat at the Foreign Ministry. 
A few years ago, there was a similar debate when the nation was about to license private newspapers. People spoke about the damage such a step will do. Now, we see that things are fine. Similarly, the authorities should go ahead and license privately owned electronic media. 
I would put two conditions. First we start with radio stations only. Second, people should respect that national fixed norms (Thawabit Wataniyah). 
Discussant # 7: 
Abdullah Sa’ad, 
Chief Editor, Al-Wahdah. 
I am surprised that some of our academic experts have made themselves into judges to decide whether to allow the people exercise their rights. They say they are worried people will make mistakes. So what? Besides, there are laws to regulate that. 
I think we have to consider the viability of private radio stations. What is the demand? Who will be tuning in? That is important for the success of these projects. 
Discussant # 8: 
Abdulaziz Sultan, 
Chief Editor, Al-Wahdawi. 
There is a troubling sense of patronage in some of the intervention,especially those representing the establishment. What is the meaning of fixed national norms and sensibilities? Those are not binding factors. The only binding factors are the constitution and laws. Norms should actually change with time. 
Discussant # 9: 
Rahmah Hujairah, Stringer for Okaz Newspaper. 
I basically agree that our people should be able to exercise their right to establish private radio and television stations. But, somehow, I can’t help but worry about possible manipulation. 
Discussant # 10: 
Mina Rad, French Journalist: 
I believe that in the beginning, a private radio station should focus on music, sports, and culture. I mean, a deliberate effort must be made to avoid politics in order to pacify the authorities. 
Discussant # 11:  
Sami Ghalib, Secretary to Al-Wahdawi Newspaper.  
I am shocked by the calls I hear from respectable academics to exclude the political parties from enjoying this right (of establishing radio and television stations). Whatever the excuse, it must be understood that it is political parties which are the main driving force behind Yemen’s democratization process. Private radio/television stations are a milestone in our transformation. 
Discussant # 12: 
Nabeel Al-Soufi, Reporter with Al-Sahwa Newspaper, and Stringer for Al-Mustaqilla.  
I believe the authorities are reluctant to let go of their monopoly over the radio and television stations. That explains the various excuses put forth to delay or even abrogate the right of our people to own/operate radio and television stations. 
Other participants are Dr. Ahmed Aqabat of Sanaa University’s Journalism College, Hafez Al-Bukari, Reporter with Okaz newspaper, Mansour Al-Jarady, of Al-Shoura newspaper, Ms. Ahlam Abdul-Raqeeb, Stringer with Saba News Agency, Kaied Yusuf of Al-Jumhuriyah paper, Mohammed Abdul-Rahman of Sanaa Television, Mohammed Al-Yazili, Al-Thawra newspaper, Ahmed Al-Haj, Stringer with AP, Abdul-Karim Ajlan, Reporter with 26th September, and, of course, the Yemen Times team.