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Jordan's press freedom gets mixed marks

Daoud Kuttab photo
Daoud KuttabAmman, JORDAN
Jordan's press freedom gets mixed marks
Jordan's press freedom gets mixed marks because of events that took place on two separate days

All the efforts to improve the media scene in Jordan, certain acts tend to push advances backwards.

In its annual report issued on the eve of Press Freedom Day, the Centre for the Defence of the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) gave mixed marks to Jordan for its record.

On the one hand, the number of press freedom violations increased in the last year to 135, but at the same time, most of these violations were not serious.

The increase in violations took place in two separate days. Tens of violations occurred on election day last September. The other bulk of violations took place on March 12, the day Ahmad Daqamseh, a Jordanian soldier convicted of killing seven Israeli schoolgirls and injuring six in Baqoura, a border site, was released after 15 years in jail.

On that day, Jordanian security used various means to prevent journalists from interviewing the released prisoner.

While monitoring groups like CDFJ record and document daily violations of press freedoms, a major problem continues to be the presence of a high degree of self-censorship, which recorded a high 93 per cent level.

Journalists and columnists continue to impose on themselves certain red lines without the government having to do anything directly to prevent them from this effort.

As CDFJ Director Nidal Mansour said, it is not clear why journalists have become apathetic over the years and whether the government has succeeded in placing editors at key media outlets that are responsible for this self-censorship phenomenon.

Media ownership and the role of publishers, broadcasters and senior editors needs much more attention because of their effect on the final content that the public can read, view and surf.

While online and social media exploded in terms of sheer numbers, the actual original content on many of these digital outlets is not that impressive.

We are still seeing content of traditional media overwhelmingly filling most of the online sites and social media accounts.

The major increase is in commentary, rather than original reporting, and much of this commentary is actually offensive and divisive rather than enriching and uplifting.

A quick scan at the ownership map in Jordan shows that most media are owned by the government or semi-governmental bodies (like the army and police), with most of the commercial media choosing to stay away from serious journalism.

Some commercial media, especially morning radio shows, attempt to address specific individual problems (no lighting or child needing medical help) rather than the root causes of those same issues, such as the energy problem or the national health coverage.

A number of moderate Islamic media, as well as a few independent community-based media, deal with more serious editorial content, but it is unclear which direction they will take and whether they will be sustained over the long term.

The Jordanian government and UNESCO have worked together to try and support the media, but these efforts have had mixed results.

Many efforts to prop community-based media failed because of bureaucratic and financial difficulties.

The government-appointed audio visual commission makes it very difficult to set up a community radio because of the unusual requirement that the radio manger have 10 years of experience.

Media commission and telecommunication fees are so high that they make it next to impossible to sustain non-commercial community radio.

A change in the audio visual law allowed for the potential waiver of the media commission fees, but this change has yet to be implemented.

Attempts to get waivers were turned down because of the current financial crisis.

The efforts to decentralise Jordan’s overall public procedures, which will be highlighted on August 15 by the first ever decentralised elections, have not yet been matched by a similar media effort.

While several public universities do host local radio stations, these stations generally toe the government line and often reflect the mood of a particular university’s president rather than the needs of the community they serve.

The Washington-based Freedom House ranks Jordan’s Internet as partially free while it regards the Kingdom as not free when it comes to the press.

Jordan is ranked 138 out of 180 countries in media freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders.

Both the World Bank and UNESCO have repeatedly encouraged developing countries to revise their laws in order to create an enabling legal and administrative environment for community media.

World Bank research has shown that countries that lower the bar for community media fare much better in the fight against poverty and unemployment.

As the world prepares to mark Press Freedom Day, it is important that a serious look be given to the need to help create and sustain independent and community media.

This would play a major role in lessening the self-censorship that continues to hurt the press development in a way that it can one day claim that the sky is the limit.

##Jordan, ##press, ##Freedom, ##selfcensorship, ##UNESCO