Media work and the culture of compatibility [Archives:2007/1044/Opinion]

April 23 2007

Abdulbaqi Shamsan
The media and political community have been experiencing a sharp controversy over the old and new version of the Press and Publication Law, which the government drafted without consulting the Yemeni Journalist Syndicate or the prominent media personalities. Several symposia were held and reports were written about the legal obstacles imposed by the press law on the freedom of expression.

In this context, we don't deny that the legal environment, where the journalists work, is full of obstacles; the press law that restricts the press freedom, or the Crimes and Penalties Law that also imposes various restrictions on the freedom of expression. The article No. 26 in the latter stipulates that the death penalty is imposed in case a journalist crosses the red line during his/her work. In addition, the Penal Procedures Law No. 13 for the year 1994 contains sentences against the violating newspaper.

The legal environment is one of the dimensions of press freedom in the countries of growing democracy in general and Yemen in particular. These dimensions vary due to the policy of divisions cited during the first stage of moving toward party pluralism. Also, it was based on the harmony that has been established and changed into a culture including different means and components. The policy of divisions during the infancy stage and the results of the parliamentary elections, which took place in 1993 haven't played any role to make this culture deep-rooted. The two events hindered the progress toward democracy when a three-side coalition was formed, thus aborting the fetus of the government and the opposition at an early age.

The compatible culture helps the political party and media work to go beyond the legal and constitutional context or not to take them into consideration at the time of containing conflicts. Our previous viewpoints confirm the complaints and sufferings of journalists due to legal restrictions. However, in the past journalists worked freely in the same legal environment.

To make the matter clearer, we cited the conflict that took place recently over the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum (SCER) when the political parties accepted the game of closed circles as well as the crisis and deal which are based on compatibility. The parties go beyond the constitutional and legal limits during the first period while the culture of compatibility hadn't enabled them discover the legal chains and restrictions. However, practice alone could enable them spot the chains. The political parties found themselves surrounded in a tight corner that didn't allow them to take breath. Further, they discovered that the law is the main barrier posed to their progress.

Culture of democracy

I am strongly loyal with the cultural current that the priority of the democratic transformation and the availability of a democratic culture at the level of communities and the ruling policies will work on enhancing the democratic option through establishing good institutions. In return, these institutions are due to spread confidence among the community components in order for the democratic culture to be interpreted into an individual and group behaviour. This condition is not made available with the Yemeni community's move toward party pluralism; rather it featured striking historic events at different levels. Here, I have to indicate that civil community organizations and political parties are the product of community environment, which is the reason why they neither have the institutional dimension nor do they exercise the internal democracy.

These facts weakened their presence and contribution, particularly if we focused on the media institutions which are usually seen to harshly criticize the authorities and the official newspapers, that are described as lacking the freedom of expression. On the other hand,the opposition newspapers exercise the same behaviour when they restrict the freedom of their workers.


The Center to Project Journalists in the Jordanian capital Amman released a report entitled 'Investment in the Future' in cooperation with Free Voice. The report covered six countries including Yemen and aimed to set a strategy to develop the media capacities and protect journalists. Although I am the one who prepared the part of the report concerned with Yemen except for variables of the form, I didn't agree with the researchers in the Cairo-based Headquarters where people expressed their viewpoints without considering the community privacies. They based their viewpoints on three requirements to reach strategic goals, the first of which is developing the capacities of journalists and protecting them with more emphasis on the legal environment. The second gaol is increasing legal awareness and performance while the third is represented by being liberal and open to the modern technology and knowledge.

Scope of operations:

We mean by this the space where civil community organizations exercise activities, as well as expand their activities according to the democratic principles and values. As you know, countries of changeable democracies or the ones characterized by growing democracies specify the space that spots the strengths and weaknesses of civil community organizations in terms of the spread of these institutions in the community and institutional judiciary.

On the other hand, these institutions tend to organize activists and enable them to participate via the solidarity mechanisms. Here, I say that civil community organizations lack the sense of institutionalism and suffer weaknesses.

The just-said process is called the conflict of sites within the community and institutional judiciary. For instance, the Yemeni Journalist Syndicate, which was previously called the Yemeni Writers Union, is a site of conflicts. If the state controls it through elections, it will return to its former situation while the opposite leads to expanding the scope of freedom.

We usually realize that those working in the field of media have taken a pragmatic position when they grabbed on the middle of the stick. President of YJS Nasr Taha Mustafa is known for his relation with the decision-making authorities. He also enjoys regard and respect of the majority of media workers. As a result, this relation is bound to influence performance of the syndicate. If there is no harmony between the YJS board members, the syndicate may take a pragmatic approach in the management of conflicts based on the rule of less harm.


I have talked about the media work, which I mean the readable one, which is required to take good steps toward free and independent media. In addition, I suggest that part of the visible and audible media, as well as the written press, should be privatized while the government maintains a certain part.

In fact, Yemen is one of the few growing-democracy countries where newspapers vary in abundance. Also, it is a country where the influence of the press is limited due to the high illiteracy rates, coupled with the firm restrictions the government imposes on press freedom.