Toward a better Press Law [Archives:2007/1037/Opinion]

March 29 2007

By: Yasser Al-Mayasi
Last week, numerous journalists participated in a workshop aimed at establishing a work team to advocate amending Yemen's Press Law. This group is due to seek a better press law to protect freedoms and abolish barriers posed to the Yemeni press.

The workshop was more serious and interactive, as it was held in the presence of legal officer Daniel Simons and Toby Mendel, a law program director for Article 19, a British organization interested in press affairs.

Participants were enthusiastic to suggest numerous remarks to amend the current Press Law in effect, as well as advocate abolishing obstacles restricting press freedom. Their remarks proved to be positive and creative, but the important question was: Will the decision makers welcome their remarks?

As far as I'm concerned, the decision makers may not welcome these remarks. If we look to the past, we'll find that governments welcomed none of the world's voices advocating improving the press situation and governments worldwide don't draft laws leaving enough scope for press freedom. In numerous countries, press laws began restricting press freedom; however, journalists' awareness and their struggle to obtain their rights helped them to work in a free atmosphere.

An unprecedented number of attacks on independent journalists made 2005 one of the worst years in recent history for the Yemeni press. The media atmosphere has been shrouded in a climate of fear as violent attacks on journalists have become routine, opposition newspapers frequently are closed and editors regularly are prosecuted for critical coverage of state affairs. The resilient independent press has continued to push the well-defined boundaries set by Yemeni authorities, but has met with increased aggression and hostility along the way.

While broadcast media remain under strict state control, Yemen's independent press has flourished in recent years, with a wider number of journalists daring to report on sensitive issues.

As Yemeni journalists, we must advocate good press laws, particularly as we live in a democratic country adhering to press freedom and freedom of expression. Thus, journalists must continue claiming their rights without fear or frustration, since fear and frustration don't breed freedom.

Yasser Al-Mayasi is a Yemeni journalist specialized in children and business. [email protected]