Feb 13 2011

Press freedom in Jordan

Published by at 3:22 pm under Articles,Jordan

This article appeared in Jo magazine ( http://bit.ly/hmpZGx )
FEBRUARY 06, 2011
IT DIDN’T TAKE LONG for the new administration to get riled up about the media. Just before the turn of the new year, two deputies got into a verbal exchange of insults over backdoor deals for committee membership and when the media exposed the altercation, the speaker of the Lower House promised angry deputies that the new assembly would find ways to curb the press.
It’s a place we’ve been before.
For a short while after the appointment of HE Prime Minister Samir Rifai’s first administration, it looked like Jordan’s traditionally restrictive attitude toward the local media was about to change. The cabinet issued new guidelines for the government back in January 2010, detailing how it planned to divorce itself from all appearances of soft sponsorship that influence journalist neutrality, public employees who also worked in the media were asked to choose one or the other, and all sorts of rewards given to journalists were to be stopped. And although the Amman-based Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists said in its 2009 annual report that media freedom had regressed, its director was on record saying that the NGO welcomed the new guidelines and was taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Within weeks, the real intentions of the government started to unfold. An Al Ghad investigative report criticizing the treatment of government-run orphanages was fiercely attacked and the government demanded to know the report’s sources. When Al Ghad didn’t comply, the newspaper’s owner and editors were pressured to sever relations with the Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism, which sponsored the investigation. It quickly became clear through Al Ghad’s coverage, as well as that of other newspapers, that the standards for press freedom had been lowered. The appointment of a well-known columnist Saleh Qallab as head of the government’s Jordan Radio and Television Corporation reflected the administration’s failure to live up to its promises.
But if the government attitude to the traditional press lowered the level of independent content, its attitude toward electronic media has been even harsher. After attempts to curb online press freedom through the courts using the restrictive Press and Publications Law and the imprisonment and trial of journalists, a rushed temporary law was approved as the last administration was dissolved. Dubbed the Cyber Crimes Law, it was billed as an attack on electronic crime but instead primarily aimed to restrict news websites. The temporary law, amended in August under the guise of improving the freedoms that it had restricted, is currently under review with the new administration, which seems no less intent on curtailing the activities of the press than the last one.
With a lively debate over professionalism in the press in swing over the past month, it’s still unclear how legislation will be affected and what that means for online media in Jordan. A number of deputies have been quoted recently calling for non-traditional media to be covered in the strict Press and Publications Law, and one deputy was even quoted in The Jordan Times arguing for the abolishment of online comment sections on news websites.
Even so, the government’s media restrictions have done little to weaken the public’s appetite for independent news. A ban—claimed to remove workplace distractions—that was enforced in August on all news sites for some million public employees didn’t keep younger generations of workers from seeking out and sharing news on Facebook and other general-interest sites. Ironically, these sites were left out of the ban, which was also enforced at National Assembly offices and public universities that are supposed to enjoy independence from the executive branch.
The country’s educated and tech-savvy youth, who constitute the majority of the population, have access to numerous sources of information and use not only news websites, but social media to share hard-hitting news. While the media scene in Jordan is not as restricted as, say, Tunisia under Zine Al Abidine Ben Ali, younger generations are skeptical of both the government and private press and the upcoming decisions on legislation have the potential to sway opinion. The sooner the culture of press freedom is established, genuine access to information is accessible, and journalists are allowed to work freely, the healthier Jordan will be on all levels.
The opinions in this piece are the author’s own, and do not express the views of JO.

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