To be r not to be? [Archives:2008/1162/Viewpoint]

May 9 2008

Amel Al-Ariqi
Managing Editor

The Yemen Times daily receives letters and mail from its readers, who sometimes also communicate by telephone, while others visit our establishment – not just to share their thoughts and issues, but also to comment and criticize.

Reader opinions are always the source and measure of any progress a newspaper has achieved, as many of these opinions are taken into consideration regarding the paper's short- and long-term planning, particularly those that can be applied to its budget and policies.

However, two comments recently attracted my attention strongly, not because they were direct criticism of the editorial management, for which I'm currently responsible, but because such comments caused me to think deeply about how readers (particularly those in the Arab world) receive, comprehend and analyze their media.

The first censure came from a Yemeni journalist who attacked the Yemen Times' “female management,” saying that the two women's interests (meaning the editor-in-chief and myself, the managing editor) have negatively impacted the newspaper's policies. He went on to say that the newspaper has become more interested in women and children's rights, thereby ignoring political coverage, which he considers more important.

Regardless of this journalist's view of our “female management” and regardless of his lack of information (by the way, he doesn't speak any English) regarding the Yemen Times' constant coverage of political events such as the Sa'ada war and political strikes – regardless of all of these, his emphasis on the importance of political issues over human rights issues made me think about the role of the media in our country.

Unfortunately, focusing on political events such as government achievements or opposition parties' criticism occupies huge space in Yemeni media coverage, while humanitarian issues are relatively few and far between. Moreover, some newspapers politicize such humanitarian cases by blaming the government or the president, who is supposed to be responsible for everything.

I'm not saying that politics isn't important, but journalists should bear in mind that they aren't merely tools in the hands of politicians. Additionally, they should cover such issues to help those people whose voices are barely heard, not by taking a political position or attitude, but by adopting these cases and addressing the real problems, whether social, cultural or legal.

The second comment came from a Sana'a university student who visited the Yemen Times with 24 other students. After touring the premises and discussing journalism, the 23-year-old stated that he noted an “insignificant error in the Yemen Times' news coverage which may influence its credibility.”

Such a statement not only attracted my attention, but also alerted my senses to discover what this “insignificant error” was that's threatening our credibility.

“When your reporters cover a news story, they keep quoting other sources instead of telling us who we should believe or what's right or wrong,” said the student, who later understood that the Yemen Times is an independent newspaper that doesn't take sides in its coverage.

Additionally, professionally speaking, a news reporter's mission isn't to give his or her opinion, but to cover and report an event objectively.

This student's comment came from his appreciation of some Yemeni newspapers' coverage of certain news events.

I don't blame the student, who has the right to choose and appreciate any style of writing; rather, I blame our nation's media, which takes readers' right to decide and attempts to direct them to become receivers of information that can easily be manipulated.

It's healthy to have government, opposition and independent newspapers, which promotes the democratic concepts of freedom of speech and expression. However, being a journalist doesn't mean that will make you a judge who can impose his or her rule upon readers by adding opinion in news items, considering such opinions as a perfect analysis of the situation.

Such attitude by opposition journalists, and even journalists work in the official media, not only is unprofessional, but also exposes the journalist's bias.

While these two comments don't necessarily reflect the thoughts and opinions of all Yemen Times readers, they do highlight the relationship between the media and their audience and how each one can influence the other's attitudes.