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Monday, August 2, 2010
Global Toolbox

News from Yemen in three acts

By Bruce C. Swaffield

From the Republic of Yemen, the news

this month falls into three categories: the good, the bad and the sad.

First, the good news.

The United States Embassy in Sana’a is offering grants to local journalists who want to learn English. According to News Yemen (newsyemen.net/en), up to 30 media professionals will be taking courses at the Yemen America Language Institute (YALI) to improve their language skills.

“The public affairs officer in the U.S. Embassy, Deborah Smith, confirmed in a meeting with the journalists at YALI in Sana’a the importance of English language for journalists so that they can do research on the Internet to get significant information in English.” The article added that people from “independent, official and opposition media outlets” are eligible to participate in the program.

YALI celebrated its 35th year in March and is supported by the U.S. Department of State as well as the Yemen College of Middle Eastern Studies.

Next, the bad news.

Despite a recent story in the Los Angeles Times —

“YEMEN: The first privately run radio station ready to hit the airwaves” — there is very little to cheer about. Privatization of radio and television stations is, indeed, part of a new media law that should be implemented this year, says Yemen Minister of Information Hassan al-Lawzi. Unfortunately, there’s more.

Reporters Without Borders (rsf.org) says this legislation will actually make it harder on journalists for a number of reasons. “The current press law dates back to 1990, and a reform project under discussion for several years has been strongly criticised by journalists for being too repressive,” RSF reported in a news release on current conditions in the country.

“It would ban any investigation harming the country’s ‘national security,’ ‘national unity’ or ‘external relations,’ and provides for jail sentences of up to six years. Any abusive use of these vague and subjective notions could gag the Yemeni media more than before.”

On the other hand, al-Lawzi sees things in a different light. “This law partially is a sovereignty law that regulates the way of using the waves and frequencies that are among the rights of the state,” he said in remarks to Yemen Observer online (yobserver.com). In a separate story, the Observer wrote that, “Al-Lawzi recognized that if this law was to be applied equally, it stands as an essential governmental achievement and a transition to a fundamentally important stipulation of the presidential election program.”

In essence, the state would continue to license and regulate the media, from newspapers to radio and television stations. Various government officials have been talking about a proposed draft of the bill since 2005 and have yet to make any real progress. As far as journalists are concerned, the present regime continues to make more arrests each day.

Marwan Damaj, secretary general of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate, told RSF that, “Yemen is witnessing one of the darkest developments in press freedom since 1990.” No wonder. The current president, Ali Abdullah Saleh, came to power of united Yemen in 1990 after ruling North Yemen from 1978 to 1990.

Third, some sad news.

You may have never heard of this television journalist, but literally millions of people throughout the Arab world knew Yahya Ali Allaw because of five diverse and distinct programs that marked a 25-year career. Allaw died on June 14 after a yearlong struggle with renal cancer. He was 48 and leaves behind a wife with 12 children.

“Thousands of people from different governorates flocked to attend the funeral on Wednesday in al-Ahmar graveyard in Sana’a,” said the story in Yemen Times

(yementimes.com). “Allaw worked as a television show presenter and editor in 1990. In 1995, he worked as a senior director for presenters and preparers. He was well-known for his love of presenting television shows and refused to occupy high positions in the Ministry of Information.”

“Every Ramadan, I [sat] with my mom to watch his TV show that [taught] us Islamic morals and inform us about beautiful places in our country,” one viewer from Oregon wrote on the Yemen Times website.

Another said, “I felt so sorry when I heard about the death of Allaw. [He] was a star in the sky of Yemeni journalism.”

“Ramadan evenings after Taraweeh prayer will not be the same. Good bye to a wonderful person,” commented a third person.

These three stories are just a very small snapshot of the whole picture of Yemen. Learn more about this country by going to yemenembassy.org. The embassy’s website includes videos and links that will let you see and understand everything from the media to the history to the culture.

Bruce C. Swaffield is a professor of graduate studies in journalism at Regent University in Virginia Beach, Va. He holds a B.S. from Kent State University and a M.A. and Ph.D. from the University of Miami. He is a member of the SPJ International Journalism Committee and may be contacted at brucswa@regent.edu.

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