By Jihan Anwar
A seminar entitled “The Reality of Radio in Yemen,” based on the experiences of the crew at Radio FM Shabab, was held on January 30th. The seminar gave attendees a glimpse of goings-on at a radio station, from the hard work and stress to the enthusiasm which accompany broadcasting.
Attendees included students from various universities’ media departments, individuals form the Ministry of Youth and Sport, World Art Access (WAA) representatives, among others.
Abdulrahman Al-Shami, Dean of Sana’a University’s Media department, highlighted how radios can be utilized as practical tool in the development of communities while also providing career opportunities for unemployed youths.
Censorship and self-censorship in the audio-visual media field in Yemen in the time of Ali Abdullah Saleh’s regime was particularly high. According to the Freedom House website, journalists in 2010 faced the worst legal and administrative restrictions in decades when reporting on the Youth Revolution.
Yahya Sharaf, Program Manager at FM Shabab, said that in a country with already limited freedoms for people’s voices, the Media and Telecommunications Ministry could well be perceived as one of the most dictatorial and strict government institutions.
Despite the fact that a regulatory bill was approved in 2010, legal regulations on audio-visual media have yet to be issued. Among the document’s key points were the abolishment of the practice of detaining journalists and permission for publishing and broadcasting media outlets to function without the need of a license, thus paving the way for privately owned media.
The program manager went on to speak about the various types of difficulties faced by privately owned radio stations.
FM Shabab was one of the first privately owned radio stations in Yemen, and the first to be broadcast via the Internet. Its independence, though it granted the station more freedom when it came to program management, also exposed the station to financial limitations and governmental neglect.
In 2011, when the Arab Spring was in full swing, FM Shabab was forced to suspend programming, and was only able to resume in September 2012.
In times of tension and crisis, the Yemeni government has been perceived by many to cease paying attention to activities focused on societal and community development.
At the seminar, Al-Shami asked, “Should we remain in limbo, waiting until the political situation resolves itself, before we begin searching for ways to contribute in positive ways to society? By 2050, the Yemeni population is estimated to reach 60 million; how will we be able to manage resources and cope with inevitable unemployment if we don’t begin taking action now?”
Individuals’ problems will develop along with those of society if they are not tackled from the beginning, Al-Shami predicted.
The Sana’a University Dean cited various types of radio ownership structures and discussed how a balance could be achieved. In his opinion, the concern that state media operations could be heavily controlled by the government could be mitigated by the introduction of a national radio station model, in which the government supervises and finances radio stations but has no saying in their administrative dealings or programming. An example of this model is the UK’s BBC radio.
Al-Shami described FM Shabab as a community radio station, a non-profit broadcast enterprise which aims to engage the youth while receiving support from private companies.
He illustrated how a South African radio station had recorded profits of $680 million, of which only 4% came from the government, thus proving that a radio station project could well be self-sustained while also generating revenues for the state.
Yemeni youths have also been perceived to be actively engaged with FM Shabab. According to the Ministry of Information, the youth radio staton received 100,000 calls in its first three months of broadcast operations.
The WAA website reported that “35 youths (aged 15-29) were recruited and trained for positions ranging from voice actors, administration, writers, producers, listing coordinators, and VOX Pop.”
In addition, WAA reported that “ten 30-minute episodes were produced and broadcast between November 14 and December 31, 2011 for IRD’s Special Refugees Program.”
FM Shabab has aired 180 episodes from 5 programs covering a wide range of issues, with the dual aim being both informative and entertaining. Most of all, station representatives have stated that the station aims to be a channel for the youth to discuss challenges and brainstorm solutions, fight social injustice and raise awareness of important issues.
At the seminar, it was announced that for the first time, the state-owned Yemen radio channel would shortly be recruiting 30 young, ambitious Yemenis to work for the station.
Minster of Youth and Sport Mu’ammar Al-Eryani pledged full support for the station, which was launched by the Yemeni Youth General Union under his leadership.
“We feel ashamed as a Ministry for not having been able to grant greater support to these youths, who are putting so much effort into delivering high quality and professional content.”