Sep 09 2015

News stories one may have missed

Published by at 11:44 am under Articles

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By Daoud Kuttab

Unless one is a news junky and follows all local news religiously, one probably missed three important issues related to the media freedoms in Jordan.

They include the three main media stakeholders, the government, media owners and the public. I will leave the juiciest story last.

The prime minister issued a memo Tuesday to all relevant government ministries and departments, urging all to adhere to the Access to Information Law and providing the ministries with a template form that the public can fill out in order to seek information.

The memo, based on the 2007 law (Jordan was the first Arab country to introduce such a law) orders officials to comply with requests within the legal 30-day period and in case a document is not released, give the reason for the rejection.

On the same day, UNESCO launched the Jordan Media Index, a lengthy, well-researched report that assesses Jordan’s media status in five key categories.

Guy Burger, the head of UNESCO’s freedom of expression department, praised the report, calling it one of the best, “if not the best”, of its kind.

Burger said that free media are necessary for democracy, and urged Jordan to improve its legislative framework to give more freedom to the press in order to encourage democratic discourse.

The lead writer of the study, Toby Mandell, from Canada, took on some of the deficiencies in the Jordanian media, including the fact that the Access to Information Law Jordan had pioneered lacked teeth and needed improvement.

He, however, said that this is a problem when one is first to adopt such legislation, as one cannot learn from others’ mistake.

The mandatory membership in the journalists’ association was mentioned, as well as the amendment to the Press and Publications Law that forces news websites to have the same licence as a print newspaper.

This is not in conformity with international standards, Mandell said. 

He also reflected on Jordan’s plans to set up what they call “an independent public service TV station”, explaining the international standards for public service broadcasting and urging that they be applied to Jordan Radio and TV.

Sawsan Zaideh, a member of the research team, outlined a number of recommendations specific to broadcasting licensing. While praising recent amendments to the audiovisual law, Zaideh quoted the report as saying Jordan must add a clear category of community media to radio and TV licences.

Despite the importance of the issues concerning broadcasting, the head of Jordan’s media commission was absent from the UNESCO ceremony, most probably trying to put out the fire that erupted on social media regarding a sarcastic programme broadcast on the independent Roya TV station.

A three-minute clip of the popular late night adult programme featured a schoolteacher reading from a children’s book stories that had sexual connotations, unable to finish them as he/she was being poked with a stick.

The clips went viral on social media and triggered calls for the boycott and closure of the independent Jordanian channel.

A letter signed by MPs was circulated and the government was inundated with calls demanding action.

Some of the accusations went outside the norm, attacking the station because of the religion of its owners and calling on Muslims to boycott it.

The channel responded quickly with a detailed statement explaining what happened and apologised if it hurt people’s sensitivity.

The station stated that the clip, which had run three weeks earlier, was broadcast during the late night hours with a clear signal and was not, as had been rumoured, broadcast for children.

Amjad Qadi, the director of the Media Commission, ordered the TV programme stopped and turned the case over to the district attorney to see if there is sufficient reason for a case against the station.

The most recent amendment to the audiovisual law bars the government regulator from arbitrarily closing down a TV station, leaving that to the judiciary.

There is no doubt that the role and place of media in Jordan, and the world, evolved over the years and require special attention from all stakeholders.

Media freedoms should not be restricted to the government’s wishes, or those of media owners or journalists.

It is the public at large that must have a say in what it wants to see, hear and read.

As the head of the UNESCO programme was quoted as telling Jordanian officials, the cup of media freedoms in Jordan might be slightly more than half full, leaving plenty of room for development.

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