Yemeni journalists work to establish code of ethics

Yemeni media professionals meet at the 4th General Congress of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate in 2009. [Khaled Abdullah Ali al-Mahdi/Reuters]

Yemeni media professionals meet at the 4th General Congress of the Yemeni Journalists Syndicate in 2009. [Khaled Abdullah Ali al-Mahdi/Reuters]



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The Yemen Journalists Syndicate (YJS) is seeking to establish a code of ethics and professional conduct to serve as a guideline for its members.

More than 150 journalists met to work on the first phase of the initiative, held in June in collaboration with the United Stated Agency for International Development (USAID). The second phase, which was launched this month, will enrol 80 journalists in workshops to produce recommendations on the conduct of the press in Yemen.

"It is extremely important to have a code in place to govern the practice of journalism," said YJS Secretary General Marwan Damaj.

He told Al-Shorfa the syndicate has been lacking such a code to set "the minimum ethical and professional standards for journalists".

"The issue has taken on added importance in light of the proliferation of media outlets and websites, because we observed a lack of professionalism on the part of some media outlets in addressing topics, which reflects negatively on the profession in general," he said.

Damaj said it is important to include media outlets in the process of writing the code to ensure their workforce abides by a minimum of professionalism.

"The standards will need to be in force for a period of time before they are instilled in [people's] minds and become common practice," he said.

Workshops held to write the code

The YSJ on September 9th concluded a two-day workshop in Sanaa, where 20 male and female journalists representing various media outlets received training and participated in focus groups to come up with recommendations for the code.

These and other recommendations will be translated into a code at the syndicate's fifth General Congress in March 2013, according to Damaj.

"The workshop's aim is to [help attendees] put forth effective recommendations on the content and themes of the journalists' code of conduct, part of a project to improve the professional and ethical conduct of the Yemeni press," said Nabil al-Usaydi, head of the YSJ Training Committee.

Five other workshops are scheduled in Taiz, Aden, Hodeidah and Mukalla through mid-October, designed to collectively establish the foundation for the code, he said.

During the syndicate's fourth General Congress in 2009, the YSJ formed a committee comprising former syndicate heads, a number of newspaper editors and media leaders, former YSJ chairman Abdul-Bari Taher told Al-Shorfa.

The committee was tasked with drafting a media code of honour to be approved at the syndicate's next congress, according to Taher.

"Journalists are opinion leaders and advocates of enlightenment, and therefore the code will serve to enhance their freedom," he told Al-Shorfa. "We wager that awareness and freedom will improve their conduct and thus enable them to fulfil their role of enlightening the community."

Strengthening the profession

Journalist Taher Hazzam, a correspondent for Saudi newspaper Al-Eqtisadiah, spoke about what he described as "wrong practices by intruders on the profession".

"Unfortunately, journalistic work in our country has become temperamental," he told Al-Shorfa. "Some [journalists] are devoid of morals and you see them work to turn a quick profit rather than help the community."

"When a journalist is driven by opportunism and you see him support a cause one day and oppose it the next, he is without principle, he loses his credibility and becomes a heavy burden on the profession in general," he said.

Fellow journalist Zaid al-Alaya, editor of the English-language magazine "Yemen Today", echoed Hazzam's sentiment, underscoring the need for a journalists' code of ethics.

"True press criticises practices, not individuals they have no compelling evidence against, which is the route taken by some [in the profession]," he told Al-Shorfa.

"This changes the role of a journalist from [someone who conveys] accurate information that the community can rely on, into a rumour-monger who deceives all those around him, turning his positive role into a negative one," he said.

"This compels us to help formulate the rules of the journalists' code of conduct for every type of media", al-Alaya said, adding that "the code of honour serves as an overarching [statute], so we raise the professional and ethical [standards] of those who break into the profession."



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