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|Nasr Taha Mustafa, Head of the Yemeni Journalist Syndicate and Chairman of Saba News Agency:|
“We see many national and party newspapers write and criticize the regime without being hindered. There are no longer limits and probations; there are just plans to organize the process of media and reporting. With such moves forward we can’t relapse and bring history back.”
Hakim Almasmari (YEMEN
Article Date: December 29, 2008
YP: How do you evaluate your work as head of Yemeni Journalists Syndicate during the last period?
Nasr Mustafa: In fact, I am not content with my performance as head of Yemeni Journalists Syndicate after almost two and a half years on the job because obstacles were big.
The period also was not long enough to make major improvements.
Nonetheless, I hope to hand over the Yemeni Journalist Syndicate to the General Conference of Journalists with some satisfaction over what have really been achieved as I paid much attention to very important matters such as allocating a building for the syndicate in Sana'a, and possession of the Aden Branch after 30 years of hesitation.
Among the achievements was also bringing in amendments to the basic system and the establishment of a Journalism Honor Pact as well as amendments to the Journalism Law.
Furthermore, we are currently at the final stage of the job description project.
YP: Why doesn’t the syndicate play a vital role in defending journalists when they were harmed?
NM: The syndicate addresses all journalist issues and does its utmost to protect journalists. The syndicate has assumed its full responsibilities representing all journalists.
YP: Though Yemeni journalists enjoy freedom which others may not enjoy in other countries, we don't have an efficient syndicate like that in Egypt?
NM: The syndicate remains efficient as long as members are united.
But we are mostly disputed by party differences and we are not devoted to serve our profession, which is journalism.
Regrettably, all matters have become politically engineered. If the syndicate supports opposition it is accused of leaning to the opposition and if it backs governmental newspapers it is said the syndicate is in the government’s pocket.
Regardless of party affiliation, the syndicate defends journalists for journalism-related issues only.
In this context, the Yemeni Journalist Syndicate is praised and classified as one of the most successful syndicates in the Arab World by the International Journalist Federation and the Arab Journalist Federation.
And it is seen so, as it covers all issues in a multi-party democracy state where democracy necessarily establishes topics worthy of media coverage.
Contrarily, in single-party controlled countries, journalist syndicates and bodies practically don’t face problems as there are no opposition.
So the Yemeni Journalist Syndicate is considered one of the most effective Arab syndicates along with the Egyptian, Moroccan and Jordanian syndicates.
YP: Journalist living conditions are very bad, is there a vision or a treatment by the syndicate?
NM: Regarding journalist living conditions, we will deal with the issue relying on two elements:
The governmental journalists and non-governmental journalists.
For journalists at governmental journalism institutions, living conditions are reasonably good if they are compared to the living conditions of journalists at national and party newspapers.
Some private and party newspapers pay so little to their journalists, sometimes $50 to $150 a month.
However, governmental journalists receive in addition to main salaries other approved premiums.
Moreover, the syndicate is currently completing final touches in the job description project, the move which applies to increase if new stages of the wage strategy are implemented.
YP: Does the syndicate defend journalists through providing lawyers during investigations?
NM: The syndicate is supposed to, but transparently speaking, resources of the syndicate are limited and due to this the syndicate rarely pays for lawyers who defend journalists. Journalists or newspapers themselves pay for lawyers who defend their rights.
YP: Are there local newspapers serving foreign interests; what is the role of the syndicate to control such papers?
NM: I have no idea that there are local newspapers serving foreign interests.
But, supposed this is true, the Journalist Honor Pact would control such violations and hold responsible involved people who use national issues and attitudes to harm the country’s interests.
YP: You were accused that your leaving the Islah party, the party you participated in its creation, was the cost for your nomination as chairman of the country's News Agency Saba and later you may hold a superior post as other previous Islah leaders did when they left the party to join the ruling party?
NM: It is untrue. I was appointed as head of the News Agency Saba while I was in the Islah Party.
I left the party after one year on job, especially after the government approved that chairman of the agency be the official spokesman for it.
So it is illogical that the spokesman for the government be from the opposition. Furthermore, moving to the ruling party came willingly and for many reasons which as I see this is not the suitable time to talk about.
YP: What is your comment to those who say that you are an employee for the President?
NM: It pleases me to be an employee for President Ali Abdullah Saleh, as he is a historical man, the maker of the unity of the current republic and the sponsor of democracy.
So I have the honor to be one of his media or political team.
YP: Going a little back, do you see a contrast as the President made calls for the release of Al-Jazeera journalist Tayseer Allouni while authorities arrest local journalists?
NM: When President Saleh ordered to reverse the punishment of imprisoning a journalist, he meant it. The order should have been implemented immediately.
Consecutive Governments, therefore, have to be held accountable over not implementing the 2004 presidential decision.
In reality, there were only few journalist imprisonments, only two cases with one journalist Abdul Karim al-Khaiwani. He was jailed first in 2004 purely for professional reasons.
But he was later pardoned by President Saleh. Al-Khaiwani was jailed for the second time in 2006 and President Saleh, for second time ordered to set him free.
YP: In relation to amendments to the journalism law: has it been discussed and approved?
NM: Amendments to the law were frozen at the Shoura Council. Almost a month ago, I accompanied the Minister of Information to meet chairman of the Shoura Council Abdul Aziz Abdul Ghani with the aim to move forward the law project.
At the meeting with Abdul Ghani we agreed to hold a special meeting that would gather the concerned committee at the Shoura Council and the syndicate council. The aim of the meeting was to confer and produce a suitable form of the law.
YP: Why would you not like to run for the post of head of Yemeni Journalists Syndicate for a second term?
NM: I think difficulties the head of journalists faces are disappointing as this head instead of merit; he usually receives criticisms and false accusations.
Even so, I respect objective and constructive criticizing accompanied with real and fully true evidence.
YP: Why do the Alsiyasia newspaper, (which you run) and Saba only cover achievements of the ruling party, while they never deal with misconducts of the party?
NM: Saba as a governmental corporation is mainly entrusted with covering all government activities and conveying them to the reader.
However, Saba tasks have been expanded to deal with the activities of civil society and political parties.
And as it is governmentally financed, its fundamental task is to present only news but not opinions. A news is always that conveys facts.
Regarding the Alsiyaiah newspaper, though it is governmentally financed it deals with opinions and publishes articles criticizing performance and misconducts of governmental institutions.
YP: Why doesn't the Alsiyasia newspaper publish articles rebuke governmental institutions?
NM: This will take place and maybe soon. The newspaper publishes reports dealing with inefficiency. However, the paper is not the only official paper doing this, there are also other official papers such as Al-Thowra, Al-Jomhuriah and 14 October which usually publish reports and media coverage on inefficiency and delicate issues.
It is unfair to say that such papers decorate the face of the government.
We published when Al-Khaiwani was pardoned an entire report for the issue as well as some of his statements. But under the current political tense all nerves are up, and for this we have to deal with issues with maximum accuracy and wisdom to avoid being accused as part of what is happening.
YP: Are you satisfied with all that is being published by Saba News Agency?
NM: Frankly I am satisfied with the agency's performance during these years.
We also organized a six-month comprehensive training course for all the agency journalists that was financed by the BBC. A specialized trainer from the BBC trained our journalists in various principles and techniques of journalism.
After the training course, we received a letter from the BBC praising our cooperation with the BBC. The letter also pointed out that we were the only agency in the Middle East to cooperate with the British agency in that way.
We worked over the last three years to exercise accuracy as to what we report in terms of information and figures.
The agency journalists tried to collect true information and pursue right sources to confirm information on news.
YP: In many occasions, you brought up the Salafi group saying this group poses a threat to the Islah party. Could you please tell what kind of threat this group forms and how much does this group affect the party?
NM: I referred to the internal Salafi group but not the external, because the internal is which pushes the Islah party to be closed and hard-line.
The Islah party is big; hence it is wrong to restrict its performance to a small group as it is a party with an ideology.
The party's hard-line attitudes may affect the party and lead to its relapse.
Opinions over the role of women, an issue that is still controversial inside the party due to the internal Salafi group, could prevent the party from going ahead with the democratic process through nominating women for parliament.
We recognize the Islah party is a major party that plays a crucial role in stabilizing the country. So, the party policies through following smaller JMP parties aimed at implementing these parties' agenda, is a big mistake as the party will gain no benefits by such moves.
In 1997 while I was still a member in the party, I wrote some articles over the elections results and the votes the party won with which the party lost some of its popularity. I said the party relapsed almost 20-30 years. The party's performance during the 2006 elections also was a reason for its failure. I suggested that the party was rather to deal with its failure reasons instead of tense with the ruling party.
YP: Are you with the idea of abolishing the Information Ministry?
NM: How can we cancel the Ministry of Information while we have governmental media corporations that remain in need of observation and representation?
As there are media insinuations, there should be a competent ministry to represent their issues and censor them.
So I think the idea of abolishment of the ministry is as political bids by political sides in the country.
YP: How do you look at freedom of press in Yemen five years forward?
NM: If we look at freedoms in Yemen and compare the situation here to situations in other Arab states, we definitely find that freedom in Yemen is fully exercised.
If we come to the right meaning of freedom of press which is: to say and write and criticize the regime, here newspapers exercise this freedom.
We see many national and party newspapers write and criticize the regime without being hindered. There are no longer limits and probations; there are just plans to organize the process of media and reporting.
With such moves forward we can't relapse and bring history back.