Will journalists seize the moment? [Archives:2004/715/Viewpoint]

February 26 2004

As journalists, we have called upon authorities many times in the past to remove jail terms in the press and publication law, so as no one is ever imprisoned for what they write.
Our calls have continuously fallen on deaf ears . . . until today.
Last week, we all were impressed that Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak decided to cancel the jail terms in all cases for journalists. This was seen globally and in the Arab arena as a positive developments in the history of democratization in Egypt. It is a pity that our officials have now come to see that perhaps Yemen should have done this first.
A source at the Ministry of Information said that this gives them a boost to act on behalf of journalists to request the president to issue an order to remove this sentence too, especially as the law is out of date.
“We feel that we now have a stronger case against the imprisonment sentences against writers and need to act now,” he said.
But why do we always need to be second or third? Why can't Yemenis be the initiators of such positive steps that, without doubt, would promote democracy and freedom further? Is it lack of self-confidence or simply because our journalists nobody gives a damn about our journalists?
What happened in the last Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS) meeting made me feel that perhaps journalists can't defend themselves, and that makes them unable to put forward their case solidly, unlike their Egyptian counterparts.
Internal conflicts amongst journalists and the total obedience of journalists to their bosses, or in the right sense their political parties, makes them with virtually little decision-making abilities even within their own scope.
Only if journalists come out with a solid stance in rejecting laws allowing jail terms, and asking for such laws to be removed ) which will eventually have to be ordered to do so by the president of state ) we will never, as journalists, be guaranteed we would not be put in an underground cell somewhere sometime in the future.
The new YJS board has now been announced, and the leadership of the syndicate has given many promises. I believe what happened in Egypt is a true opportunity for our own organization, that is supposed to defend journalists and their right, to bring our case clearer and stronger than ever.
I believe we can take strong steps to promote our rights if we wanted to. All we need is a bit of courage to take it to another level: not gently ask for change, but demand it.