On Jordan’s Online Clampdown

Jordan has had relative freedom of the press with regard to online media but a decision from the country’s High Court might change all that.

Tags: Jordan
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By  Gareth Van Zyl Published  January 19, 2010

Jordan’s Queen Rania has embraced 21st century communication technology. She has a strong presence on her blog, Twitter and Facebook account, and she is a symbol of how seemingly progressive the Kingdom is concerning online media. Jordan is one of the more ‘liberal’ countries in this region when it comes to freedom of expression, especially online.

Yet on January 14, 2010, it was widely reported that Jordan’s High Appeal Court made a decision that calls for Jordan’s Print and Publications Law to extend to any electronic medium. If drafted into law, this will empower Jordanian authorities to prosecute or impose fines on journalists, editors or bloggers for publishing online material that may be deemed offensive or imply criticism of the government, national unity or the country’s economy.

At this stage, the High Court’s decision mentioned above has not been drafted into the constitution. But, according to the Jordan Times, the government has already put together a team of legal consultants who are drawing up guidelines to address the issue of electronic media.

"Although the court's decision does not have the power of a law, it may be referred to by lower courts when considering similar cases. However, it is possible that another judicial body at the Cassation Court [the Supreme Court] may take a different decision in a similar case and decide that news websites are not subject to the Press and Publications Law," Ahmad Ghannam of the Jordan Bar Association told The Jordan Times.

After speaking to Nidal Mansor, President of the Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists in Jordan, he told me that there are still many unanswered questions about how this ruling or a possible extension to the law will be applied.

“Do you [the Jordanian government] want to ask all the websites to have legal chief editors?” he asks.

“Do you [the Jordanian government] want all the websites to go and register in the press and publications department?” he further asks.

He also points out the difficulty in identifying as to whether or not this ruling (or such a law) would extend to posts people make on Facebook or even via SMS on their mobile phones. Either way, it’s clear the Jordanian government is intent on controlling online media.

“Every government in Jordan or other Arab countries; they are feeling that they can stop the new media, or they can talk up pressures,” Mansor says.

He does however admit that online media in Jordan is of a "weak" and unprofessional standard. Some individuals in that country have allegedly experienced instances of defamation through electronic media. Nevertheless, Mansor still thinks it is important for the country’s online media to remain free.

“I think that on the whole we cannot stop this kind of media, even if we are not satisfied with the levels of professionalism,” he says.

“Everywhere the freedom of the press is necessary for the society. Everywhere, and in our society in Jordan, we are talking about margin of democracy ,” he says.

It seems to be becoming a trend in the twenty-first century for countries such as China and Jordan to clamp down on online media. Every country has the sovereign right to dictate as to how liberal they will allow their press to be, but applying such rules can become tricky as seen in Jordan. Will many of us living in the Middle East in future have to be even more careful about what we say on Facebook or Twitter in case we are deemed to be ‘bloggers’ critical of governments here? When the world is coming to grips about the exact definition of what a ‘blogger’ is, making a law that targets those who write online is fraught with complexity.

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