The apathy of Yemeni journalists [Archives:2008/1158/Viewpoint]

May 26 2008

The image of Yemeni media globally is that journalists are struggling for freedom of expression willing to die for the cause, while the evil Yemeni government especially the Ministry of Information and the political security apparatus are chocking the life and spirit out of the free journalists. There are reportedly many violations against freedom of press, and so many local reports come every year to document such violations.

For example, the Center for Training and Protection of Journalists' Freedoms based in Sana'a issued its annual report this month stating that there had been 220 registered incidents against journalists in 2007, while the first third of 2008 witnessed 52 violations. These range from harassment, verbal and physical abuse and court cases. Year 2007 was termed by the report as the worst year for freedom of press in Yemen.

However, that is only half of the story.

The other half which not many people talk or want to talk about is regarding the number of false news items published by Yemeni media, or the number of drastic mistakes in figures and inaccuracies published and broadcasted. Or the extortion incidents Yemeni journalists are committing against business owners, government officials and even diplomats so as to get money.

Worse of all, no one talks about how the Yemeni journalists' community is suffering from apathy regarding causes they claim to defend. They even don't show support to their own issues such as violations against the press. In the protest called on by the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate last week in support of Al-Wasat Newspaper, which was prevented from being printed, of the hundreds of Sana'a based journalists only 12 showed up. And I am sure some of them were at the syndicate by chance just to follow their journalists ID cards or some other business.

But this was not reported because we do not want the government to think that we are divided and that we don't care if Al-Wasat ever publishes again or Al-Khaiwani receives a death sentence.

This is partly because many of the people working in media today are there because they could not do anything else. There is a common saying in Yemen that journalism is the profession of those who don't have a job. So they are just considering journalism as a job like any other job and they simply want to keep it by staying out of trouble, so that they get a salary at the end of the month. This applies heavily to official media including TV and radio.

The other reason is that a large part of Yemeni journalists are frustrated and bored. They are underpaid, under trained and not respected. So they don't appreciate their profession and the “will to defend the truth and change the world”, has long gone with the first paycheck. Now there is even a worse trend which is: Yemeni journalists write about events and issues only if that particular organization pays them to do so. They are simply sold. For example, for international organsiations including the high level ones such as the UN agencies, the World Bank, or even events carried out by embassies, there is a budget line called media transport allowance. This is apparently the money they give journalists in order to get them on board and give the event or the issue publicity. Apparently it is to help the journalists get “transportation” to the venue of the event. Keep in mind that they pay at least 2000 Yemeni riyals per day, while it could cost 40 riyals on average to get physically to that venue. Maybe transportation here includes spiritual preparation for journalists, or maybe they are hiring expensive cars, but nevertheless, it works. And this is why if someone has an event but does not include “transportation allowance” none will even show up, let alone write about it. Of course there are exceptions, but they are only what they are: exceptions.

So before you jump into conclusions about the situation of Yemeni media, maybe it would be fairer to all parts to take a look at the other side of the story and then see how and who in Yemeni media equation should be supported.