Next Step in Privatization: Opening the Way for a Free Media [Archives:1999/44/Viewpoint]

November 1 1999

We have received the news of the issuance of the privatization law with joy as we have been waiting for it for so long. Within the relatively short period since the beginning of his legal first term as president, Ali Abdullah Saleh has proven that he indeed is determined to change, change to the better. With the many laws and regulations that were issued lately, such as the work-day system, banning the chewing of qat for military officers during work, legal reforms, destroying private jails, and now issuing the privatization law. All of these are good marks in favor of the president.
However, there is still a long way ahead. The public is waiting for yet another accomplishment by the president to be registered as a historical step towards a country with a stronger democracy and a higher level of freedom, and that is opening the way for a free media. Anyone you ask, “Do you think that private TV channels and radios should exist in Yemen?” would most probably answer “Yes.”There are many reasons for us to believe that a free media is better for Yemen, some of these reasons are as follows:
1-A free media will bring about competition, and will certainly raise the level of quality in the governmental channels.
2-People will have a larger choice between all sorts of cultural, scientific, political, economical, and other programs, all of which must be guided by certain rules.
3-These private TV and radio channels will create job opportunities for thousands of employees and would raise the overall standard of living.
4-The government would benefit from these establishments through taxes and other fees, which will in the long term create a significant revenue.
5-This would encourage businessmen to advertise in different channels because the scope of viewers would widen.
6-Freedom of expression through talk shows, and other interesting topics (provided that they abide by the law) would spread awareness among the public.
7-These channels would once again regain the public’s interest in watching Yemeni channels instead of ignoring them (as happening today) and turning to other Arab channels.
8-Because these channels would reach villagers and illiterate people in rural communities, they would help a lot in spreading awareness of health and social issues and help the public channels in delivering such information to them.
There are also other reasons, but these are the main ones. It is true that private TV and radio channels are strategically important in political terms. But who is talking about politics? There are many ways to monitor what is being broadcasted, and in case is urgently needed, censor the channels for a certain time frame. There are many ways to secure that these channels would not harm the national interest of the nation. On the contrary, their benefits would be much more than what they cause of possible risk.
In my view, the decision of enabling private sector to launch its TV channels would be a major change in the country to the better. If the authorities are still not so sure about this issue, I suggest they permit the launching of commercial TV channels (that do not include political-oriented news items), and see the difference. While such a step would not in any way cause any risk to the country, it will serve as a milestone in the history of Yemen. Will the president think about it, and decide to do it?
I hope so!
Walid Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf 
Chief Editor