Neutral Official Media:  Is it too much to ask for? [Archives:1999/33/Viewpoint]

August 16 1999

A few days ago, I was watching the news in the various satellite channels on TV. In the news, I was mostly interested in what is related to the region and Yemen in particular. Later in the same day, I surfed the World Wide Web (Internet) to see what news is available online about Yemen. I found news about the opposition boycotting elections, the Bab Al-Yemen bombing, the trial of Abulhassan Al-Mihdhar, the trial of the 8 Britons, the elections and its proceedings, the latest helicopter crash in Hadhramout and other reports about my country. It came to my mind to look at what SABA, our only official news agency had (Of course there are no independent news agency existing). I turned to that page, only to find a complete disappointment. I saw that much of what is happening in the country is not mentioned at all. The news presented was not at all of importance. It was all of positive, just like as if they are saying: “We only have good news to give you. The rest of the news we do not deal with (i.e., “all the news that is fit for us”). Even the opposition boycott was not mentioned, as are many significant events that are taking place in the country, some positive and some negative. But the impression one gets when reading the news from SABA’s Web site is that we are living in a rosy world with everything around us as best as can be. A news agency, even if an official one, is supposed to report what is happening on the ground with all its details (even if offending to the state). This especially applies for a country like Yemen, committed to democracy and freedom of expression. We are in a world that is every day turning into a small village through globalization. Today, Yemenis have the means and tools to know what is happening in Yemen without even opening the Yemeni Channel. There are tens of satellite channels, which provide more neutral and accurate information about the events in Yemen. We have tens of correspondents distributed in all the regions of Yemen who are doing their best to deliver objective breaking news to international news agencies such as Reuters, AFP, AP, etc. as well as many of the Satellite Channels. I think it is about time to change. Our official news agency should begin to take a professional impartial stand. Our TV channels (There are two channels, ROY TV which is beamed also via Satellite and the Second Channel broadcast from Aden, both of which, newswise, are a carbon copies of what SABA comes up with) should do so as well. The official media cannot continuously fool the people. They can hide some information for some time, but that never lasts long. The government had committed itself to have its official media stay neutral through the Sana’a Declaration announced around two months ago at the Emerging Democracies Forum. The leadership and government would benefit more if they had a neutral media, at least, in the eyes of its people. Even official news agencies, in a democracy, insist that they maintain their credibility with the public. Otherwise, even the Yemeni citizens will not seek these media, except for comparison to see what lies are being aired by the government! This is not an attempt to offend the official media or official news agency, but it is an attempt to help them see light in a changing world. They should begin to adapt to the rest of the world, if they want to move on to the next millennium. 
We are convinced that the President and the rest of the senior leadership in the country want to truly reflect Yemen as real functioning democracy, with the permanent government institutions, especially the media, as apolitical and non-partisan as possible. Thus it is in their interest to insure that the official media work diligently to maintain a high credible public image. They should not be there just the public can look to the opposite of what they say in order to decipher the truth out of them. 
It is worth noting that this is not an impossible task for our official media. They were operating like that for some time during the post-unification period, when, indeed it was seen with pride that our official media stuck to its professionalism. But then, the political equation in the country was quite different. Even still, that does not mean that our official media is unable to convince their bosses that credibility is more important than all the whitewash that is now being aired or printed, even for the leaders themselves. Will they gather their courage and commitment to deliver the point? 
I hope they will! 
Walid Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf 
Chief Editor