Sanaa, Asharq Al-Awsat – With the change in the political map in Yemen, following the outbreak of the population revolution that toppled the rule of former President Ali Abdullah Saleh, the Yemeni media scene has also experienced seismic changes, becoming an arena for political conflict. The transitional period in Yemen following Saleh’s acceptance of the Gulf initiative has seen the emergence of a number of new media outlets, particularly in television and print media, which were previously monopolized by the Saleh regime for decades. Despite the technological developments that have been seen by some government institutes, there remains a huge gap between official and privately owned media in Yemen due to the absence of a strong media tradition in the country. This has opened the scene to endeavors that have served to exacerbate the state of alienation experienced by these organizations, according to Yemeni media figures and journalists.
Yemen’s new televisual media map has seen the establishment of a number of new satellite television channels, and it is now comprised of 10 satellite television channels, in addition to 4 local state-run channels and 10 privately owned channels. Yemen’s television network is made up of “Suhail TV” which is owned by businessman Hamid al-Ahmar who is a senior member of the Yemeni Joint Meeting Parties [JMP]; “Yemen Youth TV” which is administered by the Yemeni Youth Change Party and al-Islah party; “al-Saeeda TV” which is owned by a group of Yemeni businessmen; “al-Maseera TV” which has ties to Yemen’s Shiite Huthi movement; “al-Saha TV” which is affiliated to the Yemeni Youth Change Party and well-known figures in the JMP; “Yemen Today TV” which is owned by Brigadier General Ahmed Ali, son of former Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh; “Azal TV” which is affiliated to senior member of the General People’s Congress party, Mohamed al-Shaif; “al-Aqeeq TV” which is affiliated to people close to former president Saleh, “Aden Live TV” which is affiliated to former vice president Ali Salim al-Beidh and “al-Masier TV” which has ties to former president of South Yemen, Ali Nasir Muhammad, amongst others.
There are four state-run television channels, namely “Yemen TV”, “Saba TV”, al-Iman TV” and “Aden TV”, in addition to more than 12 local radio stations. There are also 6 organizations that issue 4 state-run daily newspapers, namely “al-Thawra”, “al-Joumhouria”, “14 October” and “al-Siyasa”. The first three newspapers remain in print, whilst Al-Siyasa newspaper has been discontinued after the official Yemeni news agency (SABA) – which published this newspaper – was subject to aggression and destruction during the conflict leading up to the Yemeni revolution.
For his part, former head of the Yemeni state-run news agency SABA, Nasser Taha Mustafa, told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the reality being experienced by the state-run media was that it was not pro or against [the revolution]…however the time has come to correct its conditions in line with a state of democratic institutes which is something that is underway in this country thanks to the popular revolution that toppled the regime of president Saleh.”
He added “firstly, we must evaluate the performance of these institutes and diversify its functions, as well as restructure them and provide them with financial support, as part of a first stage to transform them into popular public institutes that serve and represents the citizens and defends their rights.”
Mustafa also asserted that “without a doubt, what happened in the official institutes represents well-meaning endeavors to correct its [media] operations so as to reflect the youth, particularly as these youth led the revolution that resulted in radical change in Yemen.”
He also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “some of these [changes] may be balanced, but it all stems from good intentions and an attempt to correct the mistakes that occurred within these institutes during the period prior to the formation of the government.”
Mustafa called for media outlets to be granted greater freedoms, because they are the “spirit” of these institutes, adding “without freedoms, it would be better to shut them down completely rather than for them to be a burden on the state and a means to mislead citizens.”
Whilst Yemeni media figure Adnan al-Senwi told Asharq Al-Awsat that “it is very easy to describe the reality of the state-run Yemeni media as oppositional platforms and as part of the general system that are confronting these revolutions that are breaking out in some parts of the country.”
He added “the absence of a tradition of institutes and ruling professional standards ensured that editors remained obedient to orders, and followed an editorial approach based on a single view dominated by the regime’s discourse…as the shortest path to achievement and success.”
He confirmed that “the task of reforming this [media] sector will not be easy, in view of this great legacy of administrative and professional unease…because the government media is in need, first and foremost, of accepting the broad movement of change that is being witnessed by the country, and the importance of changing from the regime’s media to the public’s media.”
Al-Senwi also stressed that “comprehensive democracy in the mechanisms of action of this media is also an important way of building trust with the public, which was not a priority in past decades” adding “it is up to those working in this sector to acknowledge that a new reality has begun today, and that over-exaggeration and the media being controlled by a small group is a thing of the past. They must also acknowledge they are doing important work, and this must be to a high standard…this is not routine work simply to satisfy one party or another.”
He also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “the journalists that want to be known for this [important work] should commit to the principles of ethical journalism, and work in the public interest. This is based on respect for the truth, independence and impartiality, in addition to a sense of social and professional responsibility. They must be aware that following the Arab Spring, it is now time to work in the public interest.”
For his part, journalist Ali al-Jaradi warned against “the current government, or the future government, or any party in any government, controlling the media” adding “this is the gravest danger.”
Al-Jaradi, who is editor-in-chief of Yemen’s Al-Ahali newspaper, also told Asharq Al-Awsat that “in the totalitarian era, the official media has a special well-known task, and that was to promote the ruler and justify his actions and polish his image.”