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>> The Middle East Times


PRESS FREEDOM AND DEMOCRACY

Jane Novak What does it mean when a government sanctions a conference on democracy, but prevents journalists from attending? At the very least, that a conference does not a democracy make – as proved by the recent Sanaa Intergovernmental Regional Conference on Democracy. Since 1974 more than 60 countries have made the transition – with varying degrees of conviction – from an authoritarian regime to some form of democracy, from Europe to Latin America, Asia, and Africa. Now it is the Arab world that appears at the center of calls for reform and democracy. The recent conference in Sanaa brought together 600 delegates from 40 countries and international organizations, to discuss what Yemeni President Ali Abdullah Saleh called a “rescue ship” and the “choice of the modern age for all people” – democracy. Despite his ringing endorsement of the concept, however, Saleh nonetheless appeared to support the idea that local journalists should be denied access to the event. And while the Egyptian secretary-general of the Arab League, Amr Moussa, identified such wide ranging issues as economic, social, and political problems as inhibiting development in Arab states, Yemeni journalists were prohibited from attending the inaugural ceremony, and were not permitted to take photographs. The National Organization for the Defense of Rights and Freedoms was excluded altogether. (The organization declared itself “astonished.”) As fellow Egyptian Boutros Boutros-Ghali, former secretary-general of the United Nations, noted nearly a decade ago, democratic processes “channel competing interests into arenas of discourse and provide means of compromise that can be respected by all people.” One of those processes is a free press. And one of the cornerstones of democracy is a knowledgeable citizenry. Freedom of the press is therefore a fundamental prerequisite for a functional democracy. The development lobby is surprisingly quiet on the issue of press freedom in the Middle East. The struggle to achieve economic growth in the region is discussed; censorship and curbs to free speech are not. Many states in the region have enacted laws explicitly prohibiting journalists from covering social issues, or from criticizing the political leaders and their record in government. Yet these are the most important topics for journalists in any democracy. Censorship emasculates the citizenry and prohibits it from playing its part in a democracy: as a forum for discussion, debate, and decision-making. Beyond explicit censorship, an entrenched political culture that values stability and the protection of current structures is a heavy burden on free speech and thus democratic evolution in the region. Yemen is an example of a country steadfastly working toward a fuller democracy, while struggling with countervailing influences. The proposed Yemeni Journalist Syndicate Draft Law is a case in point – a piece of legislation that would take Yemeni democracy several steps back and no steps forward. According to leading members of Yemen’s media, the proposed law would inhibit free speech and violate sections of Yemen’s constitution. The law proposes charging a 3 percent fee on all advertising revenue, rather than profit, effectively bankrupting the independent press, which is not financed by the government or political parties. The bill would also require that all journalists join the syndicate, effectively contravening the voluntary nature of trade unions. Lawyers, journalists, and trade unionists have all criticized the law, which they say would convert the syndicate into a punitive apparatus. The legislation would have a chilling effect on independent reporting and free speech, leaving only a shadow of the democratic potential of the Yemeni people. The Committee to Protect Journalists has asked President Saleh to withdraw the bill, which, it says, “limits the ability of Yemen’s citizens to freely disseminate and receive information.” The Yemeni Journalists Syndicate itself has also requested the government to withdraw the bill. One way or another, journalists will continue to make their mark in the search for democracy in the region.





Altri articoli su:
[ Islam e democrazia ] [ Corte Penale Internazionale e Tribunale Penale Internazionale ] [ ONU e OMD ] [ Conferenza di Sana'a ] [ Diritti Umani, Civili  & Politici ]

Comunicati su:
[ Islam e democrazia ] [ Corte Penale Internazionale e Tribunale Penale Internazionale ] [ ONU e OMD ] [ Conferenza di Sana'a ] [ Diritti Umani, Civili  & Politici ]

Interventi su:
[ Islam e democrazia ] [ Corte Penale Internazionale e Tribunale Penale Internazionale ] [ ONU e OMD ] [ Conferenza di Sana'a ] [ Diritti Umani, Civili  & Politici ]


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