Silver LiningAl-Alimi and media: concrete results expected [Archives:2006/942/Opinion]

May 1 2006

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
[email protected]

Last week, the Interior Minister Rashad al-Alimi promised to hold the perpetrators of the attacks against journalists accountable. He said he ordered the arrest of the well-known tribal Sheikh Faris Mana'a for his intimidations and threats against Abed al-Mahthari. During his meetings with the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate board members, al-Alimi announced that his men are still investigating into the attacks journalists have been going through, promising the prosecution of the people behind such assaults. He acknowledged that the hostile attitude towards the journalists is because of the lack of a democratic culture among the people including security recruits. The man also promised to appoint a spokesman and establish an information center to provide the media professionals with the information they need.

This is really a great change and initiative which we all should thank the minister for. However, we need to see concrete results that demonstrate this new trend of al-Alimi, who is also the deputy prime minister, reflecting an attitude of the whole government.

I know that journalists can face intimidations from different people but the most important sources of that have been the security personnel. They have a hostile attitude towards journalists, envisaging them, mainly foreign media reporters, as “enemies of the country and agents who care only about their personal benefits.” Of course, the list of accusations can go on. A number of journalists have been beaten up or harassed in different ways, even while covering ordinary events like protests or sit-ins of government employees.

I know sometimes it is not attitude of the government but we can not afford to continue to pay the price of the ignorance and lack of elegance of the security men. As the interior ministry gives its staff lectures on the love of the country, its leaders tc, it can also give lectures on how to deal with journalists in a respectable manner; they should be educated that journalists are not the enemies of the country and that they are doing their job which should be respected and facilitated. Journalists are not troublemakers as they are perceived; they do serve the country and have to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted; they have to report on the wrongdoings of the officials and hold them accountable. This is the job of journalists in a democracy.

With regards to the important issue of access to information, the interior minister, who is very respectable, polite and civilized as a person, himself has been exercising a great monopoly over information sources relating to security and he used to speak only to some state-run media, making us as foreign media correspondents hover like hungry wolves, forced to quote the 26 September weekly of the army for our reports related to security issues. Opening an information center will mean a breakthrough in the relationship between the journalists and his ministry. We do not want anything from him, but information when it is needed. It is our right to ask officials give us the information we need. It is also the right of the people to be informed. Access to information is the headache of journalists not only with the interior ministry but also with almost all the government officials. And if this initiative comes from the interior, the others will certainly follow suit. We need official spokesmen who can provide information to the people just like in any democratic society based on transparency and openness.

I understand that the Yemen government has been facing hard times and harsh criticism from the donors and international human rights and media organizations; they organizations have been also urging the government to at least show evidence it is seriously investigating violence against media professionals. They have clearly put the improvement of the media situation as a parameter or condition for the flow of their donations. All sorts of dirty trickery and cloning of newspapers should be stopped.

Hey guys! You always claim journalists are distorting the image of the country and producing false reports on the country. We are not; we are not tribesmen blackmailing you by kidnapping; we do just need the correct information from you and let us work freely. Again, we are not the ones who are damaging the country's reputation. It is you and your misbehavior that is damaging the country. We have been, rather, a source of pride for the country, being praised by the international community; it is for the remarkable scope of press freedom we have had that the international community had committed itself to support Yemen and its democratization drive. The backsliding steps we have made have invited the uproar of the world community which has started setting conditions for its support.

Any how, we do not care about who is behind the announced change in the attitude towards the media as much as about the concrete results of the announcement of al-Alimi. Yemen government committed itself to the respect and protection of media freedom. We need to see concrete results demonstrating this commitment. Let us keep our fingers crossed in the hope of a genuine change and best wishes to journalists all over the world on the cassation of the International Press Freedom Day which meets the third of May.