Official media biased, experts say [Archives:2006/969/Local News]

August 3 2006

By: Mohammed Al-Jabri
SANA'A, Aug. 2 ) A national symposium to organize media usage during the September elections campaign began Tuesday in the capital city of Sana'a, with participants agreeing that official media still aren't fair during elections coverage and electoral campaigns.

“The ruling party governs official media. Those responsible for it are directed and governed by strict orders and never submit to the constitution or effective laws,” stated Abdulbari Taher, former chairman of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate.

Taher clarified that the state doesn't differentiate between official media belonging to the public and ruling party media, as the ruling party monopolizes both. Oddly enough, he went on to say, bias and fanaticism are found much more in official media than in political parties' media. “The stalemate of Yemen's regime is that it acknowledges multi-politics and multi-parties, but at the same time, it wants to monopolize the most important media means.

“The question remains: How to ensure fair media coverage during the upcoming presidential and local elections in September?” Taher wondered.

Sana'a University political science professor Dr. Mohammed Al-Mutawakel said, “It's difficult to demand that official media not be biased in favor of the ruling party. We demand the official media not attack others.”

Meanwhile, Abdu Al-Janadi, information officer for the Supreme Commission for Elections and Referendum (SCER), confessed that neutrality within the SCER is absent, adding, “We lie to ourselves if we say we're neutral. We can't control candidates when the electoral campaign reaches its peak.”

Raofa Hassan, head of the symposium and head of Yemeni Cultural Development Programs stated that having a neutral media is a dream, especially as democracy in Yemen still is in its early phases.

Al-Janadi promised that presidential candidates will be given equal space in print, radio and television official media. “Official media will be under SCER control. No presidential candidate will be given more space than other competitors,” he noted.

According to Al-Janadi, the SCER intends to cover candidates' speeches, allowing 30 minutes for candidates to read their electoral program. “But we are ready to cover their speeches, even if more than three hours,” Al-Janadi affirmed.

Marek Mracka, a trainer from Slovakia, presented a paper at the symposium on international standards regarding media coverage of elections. He pointed out that state-owned (public) media must provide the public fair and balanced reporting to enable them to make an informed and unfettered choice in electing their representatives. He emphasized that state-owned media mustn't be used as a communication or propaganda organ for one political party or as an advocate for the government to the exclusion of all other groups and parties.

Elections unlikely to be fair

“As long as the ruling party controls public funds and official media and uses them for elections coverage, impartial elections is impossible,” said Ali Al-Dhalei, information officer for the Nasserite Unionist Organization.

Al-Dhalei revealed that 1.2 million names have been repeated on election registries and records, with some 700,000 similar names. “But the SCER has refused to submit such registries to the Legal Committee. They said they would submit them soon, but, legally speaking, submitting them now is useless,” he pointed out.

He further noted that not all dead citizens have been dropped from the registries and that soldiers have registered in more than one constituency. “Having registered in his district, the soldier returns to his camp and isn't given his salary unless he re-registers in another constituency,” Al-Dhalei explained.

However, Al-Janadi confessed that only 64,000 names have been repeated on registries and elections records, with 18,000 having been disclosed as children. He holds the political parities responsible for this.

Organized by the Human Rights Information and Training Center, the symposium runs for seven days, with 60 participants representing civil community organizations, political parties, journalists and activists. The symposium aims to train participants in monitoring the media in covering electoral campaigns during elections.