Jordan to exercise greater control over digital content
Media activists worry that decision will bring an end to internet freedom in country
Jordan is to extended its Press and Publications Law to all online content including news sites and blogs, drawing criticism from media activists who believe that it will have a negative impact on internet freedom in the country.
Global internet filtering watchdog OpenNet Initiative referred to Jordan as "beacon in a region of heavy Internet filtering", blocking only one site ArabTimes.com - a US-based online newspaper that often takes a critical stance against Arab leaders. That situation however is set to change as the country's Cassation Court has decided to bound online content to existing publication laws for traditional media.
Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Nabil Sharif clarified to daily Jordan Times that the decision requires all parties to "live up to their responsibilities".
ARTICLE 19, an independent human rights organisation that protects free speech rights, has expressed concern claiming that it would create an air of intimidation.
"The court's decision, issued last week but published only today (Wednesday), empowers authorities to prosecute or impose fines on journalists, bloggers and editors for publishing online material that may be deemed offensive or imply criticism of the government, national unity or the economy," stated a release published on their site.
"ARTICLE 19 is concerned that the extension of the Press and Publications Law will lead to wide self-censorship among the online media, especially as individual writers and commentators seek to avoid heavy fines or criminal prosecution," commented executive director Dr. Agnès Callamard. "This legislation helps to create an atmosphere of intimidation that closes the space for public debate and goes against the principles of freedom of expression and opinion."
The government has announced that a team of legal consultants were drawing up guidelines to address the issue of online content, which will be made public soon.
Popular tech blog ArabCrunch spoke with Nidal Mansor, president of Center For Defending Freedom of Journalists, who said the Law meant journalists, bloggers and editors could face prosecution or heavy fines if the content they produce crosses the line of what is deemed 'acceptable'. Errant publications could also face closure.
It's believed that there are nearly thirty news websites and hundreds of active bloggers in Jordan who will be affected by the extension of the Press and Publications Law online.