Survival vrs independence, the free media dilemma [Archives:2007/1115/Viewpoint]

December 27 2007

As independent media, we have to make sure we at Yemen Times are not bending under any pressure whether political from the government, economic from the advertisers, or social from the community.

We would like to say that we have managed to do this, but the truth is that if we want to stay alive and continue delivering our message to the people, we have to make a few compromises here and there.

So far we have not been pushed to compromise in our core values.

We did not allow advertisers to make us write what they want instead of what we believe. We did not surrender to government's obnoxious demands on what to write about and what not to, and we approached some of the very taboo social issues and swallowed hard with every hate letter we received.

However, there had been instances when we turned a blind eye to some of the details we hoped to publish.

But then decided against it in order not to anger someone up there, and consequently be shut down. For example, we had to refrain from publishing a research on organized crime such as drugs and prostitution because we discovered that many persons at very important positions are involved.

For the safety of the reporter and to be able to continue as a newspaper we dropped it. As it is we are occasionally told off and give the “or else” warning in our regular political coverage.

Another example is when we write on female genital mutilation, and sexual abuse in schools. We received letters that told us we have no shame and that we have crossed the ethical and moral boundaries. I am sure we lost some conservative readers somewhere, but our responsibility is beyond all this. We take it upon ourselves to keep pushing the envelope, in order to eventually make a change.

I had a conversation with an editor in chief of a Yemeni newspaper that is currently being sued by the government for ridiculous excuses. He used to be so outgoing and reckless in his writings against the system. Now he says, “If you say it is either the government or I, it would definitely be the government.”

He has learnt to choose his battles wisely, something I had been advocating in Yemen Times over the past four years and trying to get eager journalists and editors to adopt. Yes we have to stand up for our rights, but we have to do it wisely, and that is the real challenge for free Yemeni media today.