Yemeni press: Shrinking margins or expanding horizons? [Archives:2006/1008/Front Page]

December 18 2006

By: Yasser Al-Mayasi
Press issues and their problems in Yemen have become an important topic occupying public interest. Despite risks and setbacks, the press has achieved a lot, playing an important role in creating more political action and deepening democracy in Yemen.

SANA'A, Dec. 14 ) Press-related difficulties and how to expand the margins of press freedom in Yemen were the topics at last Thursday's symposium entitled, “Press: a Margin Shrinks or a Horizon Widens.”

Women Journalists Without Chains organized the event, in collaboration with the German-based Friedrich Ebert Foundation, to discuss the press situation in Yemen. Considered an important opportunity for discussing press freedom issues, numerous government officials, civil society organization representatives and political party leaders attended the event.

Attendees had conflicting opinions about the future of the press in Yemen, with some viewing the future with more optimism, while others predicted a dark future and more difficulties.

According to Minister of Information Hassan Al-Lawzi, the Yemeni government should follow certain steps before issuing the new Publications and Press Law in its latest and updated form, whereby the government will utilize new Arab and international laws in this regard.

Al-Lawzi added that the new law will grant journalists full protection and prevent imprisonment for their opinions or while working in and facilitating the inflow of information.

He further maintained that Yemen observes human rights and press freedoms while tolerating opposing opinions and protecting general freedoms.

“The new Yemen is that of political and economic freedom together with press freedom and freedom of opinion, as adopted in President [Ali Abdullah] Saleh's electoral platform,” Al-Lawzi noted.

He defended press freedom in Yemen, declaring that a wide margin exists for professional and objective journalism that doesn't go beyond rights or societal norms, while any press violations are resolved by the judiciary.

Al-Lawzi called upon Yemeni journalist to hasten preparing a press honor code to regulate the profession, enhance its protection and prevent intrusion by others.

He indicated that the Ministry of Interior is exerting more effort – under direct instruction by political leadership – to reinforce press freedom in Yemen and protect its affiliates.

“Over the years, there have been no journalist arrests, confiscations or newspapers shut down except by judicial ruling,” he pointed out.

Mohammed Qahtan, official spokesman for the Joint Meeting Parties, warned authorities about monopolizing official mass media and further exercising political publicity programs for the ruling regime and its government, while sidelining the opposition.

He continued, alleging that restricting the opposition from official media outlets will cause them to resort to other mass media to promote their own political programs against official publicity using public mass media.

He called all journalists previously subjected to violations and arrest to join hands to break the official monopoly on mass media and further requested correcting the official media situation, as well as the tasks of the Information Ministry.

According to Qahtan, current media policy neither respects citizens nor serves their interests; instead, it supports the current political regime and its followers.

Yasser Al-Awadhi, head of the civil society sector at the General People's Congress, declared that he is all for abolishing the Information Ministry and withdrawing support from official mass media outlets, a widely held opinion among his party affiliates.

He further declared that Yemeni mass media won't become liberated unless both the opposition and the authority support press freedom. He also emphasized the need for legal awareness and a legal environment to protect society and journalists.

According to Al-Awadhi, if such a draft law is presented to Parliament, the GPC will pass it.

Sa'eed Thabet, deputy head of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, attacked both the opposition and the authority, alleging that they violate press freedoms and rob journalists of their rights. “Some parties in authority consider journalists as soldiers who should obey when ordered, whereas the opposition wants them to be buglers and write what they want them to write,” he said.

Thabet also noted that Yemen's political and national security apparatuses are responsible for most violations against journalists.

Concluding his remarks, he asked the government to improve journalists' conditions and enact laws that will help widen the margins of press freedom in Yemen.

Numerous other journalists and specialists raised issues and points aimed at improving the press situation in Yemen and lifting restrictions imposed upon it.