Negotiating a new Press Law [Archives:2007/1107/Viewpoint]

November 29 2007

The Editorial Board
The current press law of 1991 was formulated under a two-polar government system, when Yemen had a coalition government consisting of the two parties which played a role in the Yemeni Unity, i.e. The General People's Congress and the Yemeni Socialist Party. When we revisit the provisions of the law we find that the relative freedoms of expression granted in that law were a giant leap forward compared to the totalitarian and socialist systems which were in place prior to unity.

Today as we negotiate an updated press law, we deal with a single-polar government whose commitment to democracy and freedom of expressions is highly questionable. It is the same government which refuses to implement the constitution and deprives over a hundred civil society organizations and media establishments of their constitutional right to operate without any justification.

The prime difference between the 1991 when the first press law was formulate and now is not in the government's commitment to democracy and freedom of expression, the government of Yemen has never had a genuine commitment to democracy throughout its existence. But what Yemen had had in 1991 was a willingness to gain credibility and to establish a media sector which can be used as a tool in harassing other political parties and communities, a tactic which has contributed towards the 1994 civil war and the sharp decline in freedoms which followed the war.

Free media has a critical role to play in the development of any society, especially in Yemen where the media is needed to play a watchdog role to monitor the violations to the rule of law, detect cases of corruption, and provide critical criticism to policy makers and the government in order to keep it in-check. However, efforts by the regime continues in order to limit the role of the media in this regards, and the draft press law is the primary evidence to support this statement.

We need a new giant leap forwards in terms of freedom of expression. We demand the liberalization of broadcast media, lifting the restrictions on print media, and issuing licenses for civil society organizations, newspaper and other media establishments. We also demand that attempts to regulate and ban online media and mobile text-message news outlets are stopped.

It is bad enough that Yemen's economy has a gloomy future and the society is suffering from intense pressures, what logic does it make to restrict even political rights and democratic activity, which are an outlet for the people of Yemen, unless the regime hopes for a violent revolution to take place in the country.