Will YJS leadership bite the bullet now? [Archives:2006/964/Opinion]

July 17 2006

By: Mohammed Al-Qadhi
We went to vote for a new president and board to represent the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate (YJS) in February 2004, we were enthusiastic about the ability of the elections to bring fresh leadership that would breathe new life into the union. The elections were successful and brought forward young people, who were thought to be an asset in the making of the union and its subsequent development. However, the internal conflicts between the board and the president crippled any efforts to improve the situation of journalists, who are facing a number of problems relating to professionalism, ethics, freedom and other areas. It was an unhealthy environment wherein the YJS leadership was busied with trivial things.

I understand that some of the board members have been vocal in denouncing press freedom abuses. They have also been motivated to be active on this subject, but could not do so because of the lack of team-spirit. The government, of course, was not happy about the YJS board's stance with regards to press freedom violations. It mobilized some journalists to attack the board and make demands for its change, particularly after the resignation of the former president Mahboob Ali. This resulted in frustration, as the journalists started snapping at each other.

Now, we have a new president. Nasr Taha Mustafa is a man who commands the respect of many of his colleagues. The board has been supportive to him and he has also spoke highly of the board members. This is a very positive development and we hope they can make a good team to work in harmony and understanding for the welfare of the media professionals.

Mustafa has been put forward as the candidate whose main task in the future is to get the draft law passed with all its shortcomings. Mustafa denied this strongly. The man is not the fool to accept such a role, which is destined to fail. I also think it is a stupid argument, because it is not in his capacity to decide on behalf of his colleagues on such an important and critical issue. He has also said that he will make use of his good contacts with the president and the authorities to calm down the tense situation between the journalists and these parties. This is fine, as we are not always confronting the authorities. However, when it comes to violations of freedom, nobody will keep quiet, regardless of what stance the YJS might take. It is the journalists who lead the YJS and not the opposite, particularly during the backlash fight of the journalists against the government's abuse of media freedom.

By and large, there are a number of issues awaiting the new team, including the draft press law as well as the internal organization and restructuring of the YJS to become a real trade union which represents journalists' interests and delivers services to them. Without such restructuring, the YJS will not develop and becomes a professional trade union that is able to create interests for its members.

Mustafa has promised that he will do a lot in this respect. To do so would add credit to our elections, which have been for the second time fair and free; this testimony should be translated into concrete results on the ground. To have fair and free elections means that the voters are not influenced in their selection of their favorite candidates. Those who win in any election are not just a decoration to democracy; rather, they are accountable for their actions and their ability to deliver promises should be questioned. This is simply the principle of democracy at all levels, from the ordinary post in a trade union, to the highest post of the state president.

Anyway, let us keep our fingers crossed in the hope that the new team led by Mustafa will be able to bite the bullet during the remaining two years and get the YJS out of the fix it is currently going through. Mustafa is a competent person and needs the support of us all.

Mohammed Al-Qadhi is a Yemeni journalist and columnist.

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