SILVER LININGThe Press does not send out poison! [Archives:2007/1018/Opinion]

January 22 2007

Mohammed Al-Qadhi
“Do not listen to what newspapers say,” this is exactly what President Ali Abdullah Saleh told the al-Sha'ab football team while meeting them at the Presidential Palace in Mukalaa last Wednesday. He even advised them to not pay any attention to what the newspapers say as they, to him, send out their poison.

This is not the first time in which the man harshly criticized or distorted the image of press and journalists, considering them trouble makers, attempting just to instigate problems and scare the people of the situation.

Such kind of hostile discourse toward the press and journalists is dangerous and consequently brings about some of problems for journalists. When influential people and police officers listen to such discourse from the leading man in the country, they take a very negative and even hostile attitude to the press, which then increases the harsh attacks and harassment of the journalists.

The political regime in a democracy should not expect the press to present just a rosy picture of all situations. It should not expect to have prototype newspapers of al-Thawra, 26 September or even the state-owned broadcast media in which almost nothing serious or of interest to the public are discussed. Such media is just propaganda outlets and are no use to the people.

As a tax payer, I don't feel that I am benefiting from the state-owned media financed by taxes of the public. They do not touch our main issues and concerns that we would like them to be reported or covered. They just serve the interests of individuals at the power centers. This is why we believe that liberalizing broadcast media has become a must; the people should have a choice in a democratic system.

But, there are some independent or party newspapers that are of interest to the readers because they report stories of importance to them; some of them have played a significant role in reporting corruption issues and offenses like that horrible torture crime of Sheikh Saeed al-Fasheq, the rape of Anisah al-Shaibi by the jail police officers. These newspapers are operating according to the law and constitution and they have not broken these institutions.

In fact, we cannot have a democracy without an operational free press. If they break the law, they must be held accountable. But we cannot call what they report poison that the youngsters and people in general have to keep away from. It is true there are some newspapers not operating professionally, but we cannot generalize this misbehavior. The problem is that most of these yellow newspapers have been initiated to serve the purpose of influential people at the power center and they are, therefore, in good terms with people using them as an instrument to hit their opponents.

We do expect the people in charge to respect the role of the press in a democracy. They should understand that freedom of the press is not a luxury – it is a key element of development at large. Mr. President, believe me the press function is not poisonous. The role of the media is to comfort the afflicted people and to report the truth, which it is the right of all people.

Mohammed Al-Qadhi ([email protected]) is a Yemeni journalist and columnist.