Feb 24 2011

Jordanian thugs need a journalistic investigative report

Published by at 12:25 pm under Articles,Jordan

By Daoud Kuttab
Freedom of expression and the right to assemble are two basic human rights guaranteed in the Jordanian Constitution and in international treaties signed by Jordan. Naturally the right of expression should be defended irrespective of the content.
The executive branch, namely the police, is entrusted with defending the citizen, whether he is supporting or opposing the government’s point of view. At times, and with all the good intentions, the police are unable to carry out this duty for legitimate reasons. They might be understaffed, under-equipped or lack information. They might simply be caught off guard, just like anybody else.
With the police sometimes unable to protect the public and guarantee it can express itself, the media’s role, as the fourth estate in a free society, becomes paramount. This role the media serve, of independent source of information, is highly needed when a particular event has more than one narrative.
What happened to the demonstrators against the Bakhit government on February 18 is an interesting case in point. Between four and eight people (the lower number is the governments and the higher is the protesters’) were injured. Among those injured was Al Arab Al Yawm columnist Mowafaq Mahadeen and his son who is a filmmaker.
The question that remains unanswered is who were the attackers and what was their motive. If they were pushed to attack, who “encouraged” them to violently take on the demonstrators?
Initially the police spokesman, Lt. Col. Mohammad Khatib, referred to the incident as a clash between two opposing groups of demonstrators. Quoted in the official news agency, Petra, he stated that local merchants were protesting the fact that the demonstrators were causing them to lose business. He also said that the two groups clashed and the police intervened to break up the clash, which resulted in some injuries.
Later that same day, the government spokesman, Taher Odwan, former editor in chief of Al Arab Al Yawm, appeared along with the head of the police in front of the press, condemning the attack by “unknown” individuals on the peaceful demonstrators. The government later appointed an investigation committee headed by the pan-Arabist Minister of Justice Hussein Mjalli.
There have been no reports of arrests, despite the fact that the event was recorded on video and still photos. The police were present, and clearly knowledgeable about who carried out the vigilantes’ attacks.
The attackers on peaceful demonstrators could be one of three groups. Either individuals with political views different from those who were attacked; merchants; hired thugs.
Investigative journalism effort could help answer this question. Photos and videos taken by journalists and activists show those involved in the violence against demonstrators. What any journalist can do is to isolate these photos and blow them up. Usage of photo capturing and recognition software will also be helpful in following the details and the chronology of the attack. It will reveal whether it was the result of a clash between demonstrators or a premeditated action by people who came downtown Amman with this expressed purpose.
The Amman Chamber of Commerce has denied that any of its members were involved, which partially narrows the choices about the identity and the profession of those who carried out the attacks. Of course, it is possible that these individuals were persons who run the street stands and not regular merchants, especially because on Fridays, regular store merchants close for the day.
This case can be perfect for crowd sourcing. Simply posting the photos on a social media network such as Twitter or Facebook can help reveal the name of the individuals involved.
Classical field research, especially downtown, by journalists armed with photos of the attackers can possibly help reveal their identity. Of course any results identifying the names of the attackers should be shared with the police before being published. The government should be given a reasonable chance to pick up the perpetrators.
Once the names are delivered to the police and after the lapse of a reasonable time, such information should be made public for the government to take action.
No one knows for sure the identity of the attackers.
Investigative journalism should also attempt to find out who came up with the idea of attacking the demonstrators. Who “encouraged” the attacks and how the attackers were motivated to carry out the attacks.
Press investigations can help the public at large by sending a strong deterrent message to anyone who thinks he can intimidate those with a different point of view, preventing them from expressing it.

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