Toward free press [Archives:2006/915/Opinion]

January 26 2006

Tawakil Karaman
[email protected]

Free press occupies an advanced position in the democratic process, and without free press, talk of growing or advanced democracy is a kind of deception.

Free press means free hold of print, audio and visual media without permission and expressing opinion without constraints or bans. International conventions ensure press freedom, viewing it as a mechanism for self-expression. Fortunately, Yemen's constitution did the same, but the question being raised is, “Why did the government issue a Press and Publications Law?”

By reading the law, putting it into effect and through experience, one finds it actually restricted freedom of the press and self-expression. From its first pages, the law, supposedly sponsoring the press and ensuring its practices, confines freedom of the press and those who say otherwise betray themselves.

Under the law, the government permits ownership of media, publication houses and libraries and centers selling newspapers, coupled with unlimited publication bans. The law and all its content is a flagrant violation of self-expression and contradicts international conventions ensuring press freedom.

Passage of the Press and Publication Law is similar to the amendment project currently under discussion. We should not pay attention to state-run media officials who write sequential sermons beautifying the draft press law's image. We should say to them, “If the post-amendment press law will allow freedom to possess media including newspapers, magazines and television channels-meant for those desiring to establish such means-it may fulfill some of our ambitions, as well as those of other world countries and international organizations who express solidarity with us.”

A glance at the amendment project leads us to say that the Press and Publication Law was the worst among those issued worldwide in the past few years. It is also worse than the current draft law, which needs amending. The proposal, which officials claim is part of the political reforms system and promise to implement at the local level, gives us a real indicator and strong evidence that these officials do not want any reform or change, as they ignored comments and calls to amend the law.

This draft press law promulgated by the Ministry of Information beautified its image in the government's eyes and doubled its authority. By virtue of this law, the Ministry of Information becomes the glory-holder, not the various media. The Information Minister and his deputies have become members of the fourth authority-journalism-and not colleagues of the profession. The Minister of Information is the one who grants or denies permission and under his approval, newspapers can be published and sold and libraries and printing houses closed-this is what is meant by the law's amendment project.

The will to prevent and the desire for arbitrary practice of power have their impacts on electronic journalism by virtue of the amendment project. Yemenis have discovered themselves under the Information Minister's power. We cast doubt on how he can pull the Internet world into his small dominion. It is merely a desire to take control of and restrict freedom of press and self-expression.

Our continual problem with the Information Ministry and its staff is that we have become unable to possess newspapers or magazines. How will it be possible for us to own radios and television channels?

A few months ago, our colleague Rashida Al-Qaili applied to the Information Minister for permission to issue a newspaper. The Information Minister never recognized the bid, even to reject it. Al-Qaili believes she is very close to obtaining permission, but like me, she should be convinced that she will never get it in the days to come.

Tawakil Karaman is the Head of Women Journalists Without Constraints