Archive for the 'Jordan' Category

Aug 26 2015

The not so independent Parliament

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

The independence of the three branches of the state is the bedrock of democracy. In Jordan, this independence, while guaranteed by the Constitution, one can still witness the inference of the executive branch.

Simply following the Parliament deliberations, which are being broadcast by a local NGO live on YouTube and by Radio Al Balad (ironically not on any of the many publicly owned TV and radio stations) demonstrates this problem.

Subcommittees’ amendments to the government-issued laws are routinely denied, making the process of turning draft laws to a subcommittee a farce and a waste of time and effort by individuals elected from the Parliament plenary itself.

The ineffectiveness of Parliament is reflected in the way members deal with one of its members who was elected on a national party list.

Rula Hroub, from the “Jordan is strong” party, is perhaps one of the most active members of Parliament. She has something smart to say at every session of Parliament. Her interventions are logical and her recommendations for text changes are practical, yet almost every single idea she presents in the House is voted down without any idea why.

Few argue convincingly against her ideas, yet when the speaker of the House calls for a vote, her suggestions repeatedly fail to get the needed votes. The situation has become so predictable that she started to begin her deliberations by saying: “I know this will not pass, but I need to say this for the record.” Continue Reading »

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May 06 2015

‘Public service broadcasting should not be run by government’

Published by under Articles,Jordan

Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

The caller on the phone, a close friend, was frantic.

“They are going to destroy us,” she said.

After calming her down, my friend who is a senior adviser at a local commercial TV station, said that several of their staff are leaving to work for a new station that the government is setting up.

“How can that happen, we invested in these people trained them and we pay them well. Furthermore what is the government doing creating yet another TV station, doesn’t it have enough with the existing stations it owns; and now it will take away the little advertising we have worked hard to attract,” she was saying.

I quietly explained to her that there is nothing one can do about the poaching problem, but that a real problem is the mistake that publicly funded television is allowed to broadcast advertising, which clearly violates the need for a level playing field.

The next day, my friend and I, and others, were invited by UNESCO to a celebration of Press Freedom Day held on the premises of the Royal Film Commission.

Half way through the event, the minister of state for media affairs spoke about the new TV station.

“It will be a truly public service station,” he assured those gathered, although he refused to say if it will refrain from broadcasting advertising.

UNESCO defines public service broadcasting as “broadcasting made, financed and controlled by the public, for the public”. The organisation further says that it “is neither commercial, nor state-owned” and must be “free from political interference and pressure from commercial forces”.

Jordan Radio and Television (JRTV), which owns and runs multiple TV and radio stations, is funded by tax payers and advertisers. One dinar is deducted from the electricity bill from every home, office or factory every month. JRTV also gets further tax payer funding from the general budget.

The problem is in the way this money is spent.

JRTV has an exaggerated payroll, made up mostly of people appointed by the government, often as part of political patronage. Although on paper JRTV is supposed to have an independent board, the government directly appoints its director general as well as many of its senior managers.

UNESCO says that if public service broadcasting works properly, “citizens are informed, educated and also entertained. When guaranteed with pluralism, programming diversity, editorial independence, appropriate funding, accountability and transparency, public service broadcasting can serve as a cornerstone of democracy”.

When a government minister says that the new station will be truly a “public service” one, this is an indirect admission that the current station, which employs over 2,000 and costs tens of millions of dinars, is not.

If the new TV station wants to apply international standards, it is important that at least two conditions are met. First, the government must stay away from owning and running this station so as to satisfy the “must not be state owned” condition, and that it is “controlled by the public and for the public”.

An independent board representing a spectrum of Jordanians should manage this station, totally divorced from government pressure.

Second, and since public service broadcast, according to the UNESCO definition, is not commercial and must not be “influenced by commercial pressures”, the audio visual regulator must ensure that it does not deform the commercial broadcasting field by competing with commercial stations through cutting into the already small advertising cake.

The problem with asking this of the regulator, however, is that Jordan does not have an independent regulatory board. Media, both print and audio visual, are regulated by a government-appointed director who is accountable to the same minister of media affairs who wants to start this new station using public funds.

A much better and more efficient path to creating a truly public service broadcasting station would be to address the deformities at JRTV, which will no doubt again be taking away the lion’s share of advertising in the upcoming Ramadan season.

And instead of creating yet another satellite station, effort and support must be given to create local terrestrial digital stations once the migration from analogue to digital takes place in the coming months.

My friend’s worry about the future of commercial broadcasting in Jordan is real and it will unlikely be resolved as long as the government continues to be an active player in a field it is not traditionally known to do well in: the media business.

Governments should govern independently and fairly, representing the entire population. They should not try to govern using media outlets that are intended to be used by the public and for the public, and not as a government mouthpiece.

Continue Reading »

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May 05 2015

Why the Muslim Brotherhood Isn’t Going Away Anytime Soon

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

AMMAN — In the end they withdrew their call for a demonstration. The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan wereplanning to celebrate their 70th anniversary on Friday, in spite of the Jordanian government’s public refusal to allow the event to take place. The huge pressure that the government felt shows that the Muslim Brotherhood continues to be a powerful force.

In Palestine, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s affiliate, Hamas, won student council elections at Bir Zeit University. Student elections there are often seen as a signal of general public sentiment. And in Yemen, Egypt and Libya, support for the Brotherhood has not gone away, despite very strong repressive and violent action against them by the authorities.

Jordan’s leading opposition figure Laith Shbeilat posted an open letter to King Abdullah on his Facebook account, calling on him to allow the Brotherhood to hold their celebrations and reminding him of earlier cases in which repressive attempts against the Muslim Brotherhood actually made them more popular.

Many arguments have been circulated to justify repressive acts against the Muslim Brotherhood. In Egypt, they are accused of being a wolf in sheep’s clothing — a terrorist group masquerading as a peaceful movement. In Palestine and Libya, they are criticized as an undemocratic force that merely exploits democratic elections to gain power whilst ignoring all other democratic principles. Once in government, the Brotherhood is accused of acting dictatorially and of hanging on to power even after they have outstayed their welcome.

In Jordan, a conflict has evolved over the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood movement. A split within the movement has provided the government with a chance to take sides, even though the prime minister insisted in Parliament that thegovernment does not take sides in this internal conflict. Continue Reading »

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Apr 29 2015

Muslim Brotherhood’s choices

Published by under Articles,Jordan

Following appeared in the Jordan Times newspaper

By Daoud Kuttab

The Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan is planning to celebrate its 70th anniversary on Friday in spite of public refusal of the Jordanian government to allow this event to take place.

In Palestine, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood’s affiliate, Hamas, won the elections for student council at Bir Zeit University. Student elections are often seen as a signal of general public sentiment.

In Yemen, Egypt and Libya, supporters of the Brotherhood did not disappear despite very strong repressive and violent action against them.

Jordan’s leading opposition figure Laith Shbeilat posted on his Facebook account an open letter to King Abdullah, calling on him to allow the Brotherhood to hold their celebrations and reminding him of earlier cases in which repressive attempts against the Muslim Brotherhood actually made them more popular.

Many arguments have been circulated to justify the repressive attempts against the movement.

In Egypt, they are accused of being in fact a terrorist group dressed in sheep’s clothing. In Palestine and Libya, they are accused of being undemocratic and that they merely give lip service to democratic principles only to gain power. Continue Reading »

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Mar 13 2015

Legislative Challenges to the Audiovisual Media in Jordan

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

Jordan’s Parliament is expected to discuss a new audiovisual law. The law fulfills the constitutional need of updating all temporary laws.

The current audiovisual law, issued in 2002, was seen as ushering in an end to government monopoly of airwaves. Tens of private radio and TV stations have since been licensed, but the sector has witnessed many distortions that media freedom activists hope will be corrected in the new law.

Zakaria Al Sheikh, the head of the parliamentary guidance committee, has been holding consultations with media owners and held a number of workshops and a two-day retreat in Aqaba in the hope of reaching consensus among members of his committee and other relevant groups, including the government. What emerged from these behind-the-scenes activities is a law that reportedly will abandon the clause which gives the Cabinet full power to license radio and TV stations or reject applications without giving a reason for the rejection.

Yet, this is not a way to go if the country wishes to attract investment. The new law will also end the practice of allowing business companies that work with government agencies not to pay license fees. Neither will it allow licensed broadcasters to get a waiver for the fees and advertise at the same time, which has been the case with a number of government-owned stations (army, police, Amman municipality). While this move is welcome as it attempts to create a level playing field, it fails to give a serious push to community media. Continue Reading »

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Dec 29 2014

Why I Am Opposed to the Carrying Out of Capital Punishment in Jordan

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

I am in principle opposed to the capital punishment. I am even more opposed to Jordan carrying out this inhuman punishment for a number of reasons.

One of the main reasons people are opposed to capital punishment is the fact that the chance of miscarriage of justice is high.

Throughout history, there are abundant cases of individuals who were executed, only to be proved innocent later.

Through DNA testing, one could see that even some of the world’s most careful judiciaries made mistakes that led to this irreversible punishment.

In Jordan, the judiciary is well respected by the public, but it could still be mistaken. In fact, weeks ago, a scandal led to the early retirement of five senior judges. The fact that judges were part of the scandal points to the potential of a grave miscarriage of justice.

A one percent chance that a wrong judgement can end someone’s life should be reason enough to refrain from carrying out this cruel punishment.

Perhaps the biggest problem I have with the capital punishment, especially in a region like Jordan, is the mistaken understanding that it will work as a deterrent and lower crime rates. There is no scientific proof that this is the case.

Studies show that motives for crime are many and those who carry out acts that result in a capital punishment verdict are bound to continue to act in the same manner, regardless of the penalty. Continue Reading »

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Dec 12 2014

Men and Women Call on Jordan’s MP Hind Fayez to Stand Tall

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

On the first of December 1955 (the year I was born), a 42-year-old African-American woman, Rosa Parks, made a defiant gesture by refusing to give up her bus seat despite a call by the white bus driver to stand.

The residents of Montgomery, Alabama responded to Parks’ defiance by totally boycotting the discriminatory bus company until it changed its policy.

Fifty-nine years later, almost to the day, a deputy in the Jordanian parliament, Yihya Saud “ordered” defiant MP Hind Fayez to sit down. The call: “Uqudi ya Hind” (sit down Hind) was captured on video and went viral on YouTube as Jordanians and others circulated the footage. Not only did Saud bark out this order, but he also cursed those who introduced the quota system which allowed women to reach Parliament.

No doubt the words that Saud addressed to his colleague are not new to most women who are used to men ordering them around, especially if they have the guts to stand up for what they believe.

Women MPs (not the men) attempted to stand up for their female colleague in the next Lower House session and sat in the foyer rather than their allotted seats. But the boycott didn’t last long and they were convinced to return to the chamber without Saud having apologized.

Women, who make up half the population, are represented by 18 out of the 150 Lower House members — a mere 12 percent. Due to this low level of female representation, Jordan rank is 115 out of 155 parliaments. Continue Reading »

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Jul 03 2014

World Cup and the digital switchover

Published by under Articles,Jordan

Following appeared in the Jordan Times Newspaper

If all goes as planned, this could be the last World Cup that the general public in most Arab countries, including Jordan and Palestine, will not be able to watch for free.

According to FIFA laws and regulations, TV broadcasting of the game should not be monopolised by any country, but the Arab region is the exception to the rule.

The near absence of any Jordanians terrestrial TV broadcasting has played into the hands of the oil-rich Gulf countries that paid exorbitant licence fees for the satellite broadcast of this season’s World Cup (as well as the last).

As reportedly 96 per cent of Jordanians watch satellite stations, a warped television culture has developed.

Hundreds (some say thousands) of stations are available free to air in the Arab region, despite the fact that most of them are broadcasting what amounts to inferior programming.

Whether a country or a movement, to exist politically in the Arab world one has to be on satellite.

The little box in the corner of the TV screen bearing one’s name or logo has become the sign of political existence, irrespective of the fact that someone watches that station or not.

All this could change in the next year or so if the planned switchover to terrestrial digital broadcasting is implemented properly.

Digital broadcasting not only provides regulators with tens of newly available stations (both nationwide and local) at higher quality and lower upload costs, it also gives end users many benefits, including recording, replaying and listening to broadcasts in different languages or subtitles for those with difficulty hearing. Continue Reading »

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May 28 2014

Pope’s Visit: A Resounding Success

Published by under Articles,Jordan

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By Daoud Kuttab

At all levels, the visit of Pope Francis to Jordan and Palestine was a huge success.

For about 26 hours, everything was implemented as planned. And the few unplanned moments worked out quite well, leaving indelible memories and images.

The Pope’s visit was billed as pilgrimage to the Holy Land and the slogan chosen by the Vatican was unity, in reference to the historic meeting planned with the head of the Orthodox Church in Jerusalem.

Fifty years after a similar trip was made by Pope Paul VI, the trip was aimed at rekindling the spirit of unity among Christians of different denominations, as well as an interfaith effort.

Pope Francis was accompanied by Muslim and Jewish religious leaders (one each) from his days in Argentina; the spirit of unity was evident in various meetings, speeches and homilies.

But the highlight of the entire trip was not planned, rehearsed or even expected.

The Pope had decided not to cross any checkpoints to enter the UN-declared non-member state of Palestine and so the idea of an image of the Pope interacting with the occupation or seeing the wall was thought to have been bypassed by the decision to visit Palestine, flying a Jordanian military helicopter straight to Palestine.

As he was driving around Bethlehem in his open car, the Pontiff passed by the entrance of the Aida refugee camp and noticed the separation wall. It is hard for anyone not to take notice of the 10-metre-high wall (which the media insist on calling a separation barrier) and it is even harder for the Jesuit Pope who has empathy for the weak and oppressed not to stop. Continue Reading »

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May 06 2014

Clerics, scholars debate action on Jerusalem

AlMonitor

By Daoud Kuttab

The dangers facing Jerusalem and the Al-Aqsa Mosque finally appear to have elicited serious Arab reactions. The guests and comments of the organizers of a recent conference held in the Jordanian capital of Amman reflect a newfound seriousness.

“The Road to Jerusalem” — held April 28-30 and organized by the World Islamic Sciences and Education University and Jordan’s Palestine parliamentary committee — tackled some hard issues never before confronted. The seriousness of the discussion was best conveyed when Jordan’s Prince Ghazi bin Mohammad, King Abdullah’s right-hand man on religious issues (including Jerusalem), convened a private meeting, without the press in attendance, with delegates from Palestine and the Arab world.

Leaks from that meeting indicate that Ghazi described the seriousness of the situation, in particular in regard to the Hashemite pledge to protect and defend the Haram al-Sharif, the site of Al-Aqsa, and Jerusalem in general. Jordan’s unique role in Jerusalem is codified in Article 9 of the 1994 Israel-Jordan peace treaty and in a special Jordanian-Palestinian agreement signed by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas and King Abdullah in March 2013. Continue Reading »

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