Silver LiningAmer’s CPJ Award and Yemen’s Commitment to Press Freedom [Archives:2006/992/Opinion]

October 19 2006

Last week, the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists selected our colleague Jamal Amer, editor of al-Wasat newspaper as one of four brave journalists in the world. Amer along with journalists from Colombia, the Gambia and Iraq will be awarded for their work at the 2006 International Press Freedom Awards in November.

I have really felt honored by this prestigious award that Amer will receive. I congratulate him for his good work. The selection of Amer demonstrates that the world community is watching closely what is taking place in Yemen and is appreciating the independent newspapers for cracking down on corruption and reporting the truth despite harassment, intimidation, harm, threats and imprisonment.

The award is very important in recognizing the efforts of some newspapers and journalists in standing up to corruption and striving for the truth. In 1995, the International Press Club gave its award to the former editor of Yemen Times, late Abdulaziz Al-Saqqaf, who fought fiercely for the truth and was able to disclose large corruption issues and causing himself a lot of trouble. Such awards put more responsibility on these newspapers for reporting the truth and also signal the important role that good journalism can play in the overall development drive in the country.

Such awards are an honor to those journalists who risk their lives to report the truth, but not an honor to the government as the state-run and the ruling party media want to claim. They are rather an indictment to the government which has made working in journalism and good journalism only a kind of risk for which brave journalists deserve to be honored for striving to report the truth and inform the people. This is the standard for which journalists have been honored.

The state-run media outlets have one main role, except during the recent elections campaigning, to create a sort of propaganda to the rulers. I wonder how the TV serves the people in broadcasting a live reception of the president and shows him shaking hands for hours. This service is ridiculous and shows no respect to the people who finance these media outlets.

Granting Yemeni journalists such awards puts the government of Yemen under the microscope of the international press freedom organizations and the international community at large. The government has committed itself to respect human rights and media freedom and this is one of the issues on which its eligibility for obtaining aids of the donors will be tested at the International Donors Conference in London. Most importantly, Yemen has to stick to its commitment to liberate broadcast media by allowing private ownership of TV and radio.

Eid Mubarak and many happy returns.