New press law?Action still needed by journalists [Archives:2003/694/Viewpoint]

December 15 2003

Last week, a historical and somewhat promising achievement was signaled when the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS), under tremendous pressure from journalists throughout the country, took a courageous step.
The YJS decided to withdraw the proposed law that would have limited the freedom of Yemen's free press and would have had a negative impact on private media institutions.
One of the articles of the law stipulates that journalists would be forced to join the syndicate in order to legally practice journalism in Yemen. Another article requires newspapers and other media outlets to contribute 3 percent of their advertising revenue to support the syndicate's activities.
The pressure came both from within and out of the country as most newspapers condemned the draft law, as did international organizations such as the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), which said that the bill would “only hinders the media's ability to practice their profession freely.”
In the meeting that took place last Wednesday, the syndicate's chairman, Mahboob Ali said that the syndicate cannot be against the will of journalists, whom should be the main beneficiary from any laws that the syndicate proposes.
As a result, he said he will request the Prime Minister to withdraw the bill altogether as it would have harmed the free press and caused tremendous embarrassment to Yemen's reputation as a country seeking more democracy and liberties.
Some said the law would enable the government to gain more access over the media. Others said that the government proposed serious and critical modifications to the law, resulting in major shift from the side of the journalists to the side of the government, and made the YJS a body that would have control over the duties and conditions of journalists.
But nevertheless, I believe that Mr. Ali realized that he gets his powers and authority not from the government, which welcomed the law in its updated version, but from the journalists themselves. They are the ones who could let him continue to chair the syndicate or remove him once they want too.
The decision of Mabhoob Ali emphasized the legitimacy he enjoys in leading the syndicate despite the fact that his period has long been overdue.
But even as those steps have been taken to withdraw the law, there is a slim possibility that it would continue to go on to the parliament for voting, as it is not any more in the hands of the government, but rather in the hands of the parliament, which is in many ways higher in hierarchy than the government. Who will save the journalists community from the law, if it is passed?
This is why journalist have a duty to still ensure this draft law does not get approval. This could be in the form of establishing direct contacts with parliament members and reflecting the need to not vote for the law in the media. It is all a matter of team work.
Our team work as journalists participated in pressurizing the syndicate to let go of its law. We need now to double the efforts to not allow this bill to be passed from the parliament.
It is a tough task, but achieving it will serve our country's democratic future.