Should Environment Minister Hazem Malhas Have Resigned For Insulting Jordanian Journalists?

Yesterday, Environment Minister Hazem Malhas, resigned his post from the Rifai cabinet after having insulted Jordanian journalists. The remarks happened during a workshop organized by IUCN and UNESCO on journalism and covering environmental issues (full disclosure, our company, 7iberINC, is conducting a full day training in the 4-day workshop).Essentially, Malhas referred to the state of Jordanian journalism using somewhat derogatory language, pointing to specific people that included the likes of radio host Mohammad Al Wakeel and the host of the Jordanian “60 Minutes” that runs on Jordan TV. However, what Malhas was highlighting was the fact that few journalists conduct any type of fact-checking or, in the case of an interview he had on 60 Minutes, are even prepared for interviews.

While Malhas used sweeping generalizations to categorize the state of Jordanian journalism, there is little of what he said that wasn’t in fact true and widely known. In one example, Malhas pointed to a recent article in a local newspaper that mentioned the existance of water wells in a town in Tafeeleh that does not exist. Malhas also went so far as to point out a candidate running for a parliamentary seat in Zarqa that he believes to be responsible for the destruction of the Zarqa seil, and the fact that no one in media is prepared to question the candidate.

Sound clips from the workshop where Malhas made these statements are already up on YouTube.

The Jordan Press Association naturally called for a face-to-face apology but instead, Malhas resigned his post as a minister after only a few months on the job. Malhas took full responsibility for his remarks and accepted any wrongdoing.

While it’s great to see any government official take full responsibility for something and apologize for it (an incredibly rare event in Jordan), this naturally forces me to wonder whether we are to expect apologies and a similar kind of public accountability for past offenses that range from ludicrous statements to outright corruption charges. And I’m not talking about time traveling to a different era in Jordanian politics, but merely in these past five years. Heck, I’ll take this past year.

Naturally, I do not expect such moves to be made, and neither does any Jordanian reading this. And this brings me to my main point: was it right that Malhas resign his post over these few comments when worse things have been said and done by government officials in the past? This is also keeping in mind that while his approach may have lacked any sense of diplomatic language – there was little about what he said that wasn’t true. The general consensus of comments left by users on this article seems to be “while we disagree with how he said it, what he said was right”.

Minister of Education, Badran, insulted teachers all over the Kingdom who were demanding a union by telling them to go “shave their beards first before they ask for a union”. His remarks were not only invalid and outright insulting, they created a national crisis that manifested in a nationwide strike by teachers that lasted for months and caused the government to issue pay raises in lieu of a union in order to appease the teachers (this is also known as a bribe), to say nothing of forcing an early cabinet reshuffle for the Rifai government.

Yet, with Badran, like ministers before, no apology was issued and neither was a resignation. He was technically swept aside in the reshuffle but that gave enough clout to allow him to save face.

Malhas also made the comments in a workshop full of journalists, and thus the conversation felt rather informal, if not off-the-record to begin with (although I don’t know if that’s something that was made clear to anyone in the room, including the person using his cellphone to record the above YouTube audio clip). In other words, this was a minister giving a personal opinion on the status quo rather than repeating the government line.

It seems to me that Malhas’s case was that of bad timing, specifically with regards to the government’s need for a friendly media sector with elections being held in two weeks. Now is simply not a great time to be making enemies in journalist circles. In other words, this situation seems to spell out “scapegoat” to me, and one should not be fooled in to thinking that this any real sign of government self-accountability; the term itself is fairly oxymoronic and even more so when it comes to the Jordanian state.

Was it cause for an apology? Yes.

Resignation?

Probably not.

But that’s just my take on things.

36 thoughts on “Should Environment Minister Hazem Malhas Have Resigned For Insulting Jordanian Journalists?

  1. Black Iris,

    From the start, this person does not deserve to be in the parliment. He is not even fit to run a small supermarket, never mind a Ministry. Ask any person who was worked with Hazem Malhas in the past, and he is known for his foul language, and insults to employees, or anyone in general.

    Do I think he should resign? Absolutely. He does not project the right image of Jordan with such vulgar behaviour.

    Karma came back to bite him….

  2. @FormerEmployeeWithMajorGrievances: Malhas didn’t resign from a parliamentary seat by a ministerial position. as for language…i agree that jordanian ministers and officials need to use the right kind of language, with all things considering, but my point here is, if this is our standard for holding a ministerial position then…

  3. The whole thing is blown out of proportion. Like we really have no other fundamental priorities to fret and sweat over. Based on a first hand account of the session, a workshop actually, if participants can’t be open & honest, then what’s the point? Listening to the account and hearing the above recording, there is only one instance that kind of crosses a line. Everything else said is what it is, accurate, passionate, harsh criticism. A simple, sorry, wrong language, from Malhas should have sufficed. He made a mistake in choice of a couple of words, that’s all. If the journos had confidence and are delivering on great, they wouldn’t have gotten so angry and turned it into a ridiculous consuming sob story. Their reaction is text book defensiveness to cover the low bar of standards they have reached and their frustrated inability to deliver better. Sadly.

    So, no, he shouldn’t have resigned, IMO. But where we stand today, where most public servants are governed by fear, terrified at angering local press, ridiculously helpless at owning any kind of dialog, and hopeless at sincere engagement, of course that would be unheard of for the gov – a body that still talks in 20th century PR monologue, when great conversations are badly needed.

    The grumpy local journos (blanket generalization that does not include some good individuals) need to grow up, fast, and evolve even faster. In the meantime, and in the absence of a progressive media industry, and sincere open conversations, we will continue to hurt and be held back for quite a while.

  4. Resignation is not the issue. It is the parachuting of officials and the fact that most of them are politically immature. The more we “hear” from officials, the more this fact becomes obvious.

  5. @FormerEmployeeWithMajorGrievances: I also had the opportunity to work with Hazem Malhas – and I thought he was great…inspiring, smart, motivational, challenged you to always do better, in addition to being a good and decent person who really gives a damn about making this country and the Arabs in general better.

    However – I would agree with you on him not being fit to run a small supermarket though – his proven success in the business world means he is far more suited to run one of the big international chains!

    Should he have resigned? I would have preferred he didn’t. He is the type of new younger generation of leaders that we need to support and who give me hope that things here will improve – if they are given the time to change things…and as someone who has to deal with the media every once in a while, i can’t disagree with a word he has said and hope that this incident might actually wake people up and demand better – go speak to anyone who has to deal with the media on a regular basis in this country and you will get very little positive feedback.

    People say he should have been a bit more diplomatic – but again I don’t agree….the media is one of our main sources of information – and they are failing us in many ways..incorrect information, lazy journalism, no checking of facts, focus on ad revenue rather than good content etc etc etc – and how would he have pointed that out diplomatically anyhow? Repeat the same crap of how important the media is and how we rely on them to provide us with the facts? Errr…shouldn’t they know that from Media 101 classes already? And I’ve already heard that from various people this year – did anything change?

    He shouldn’t have resigned nor should he have even apologised – i would rather a politician/minister speak the truth – i stress: the truth – rather than try to get the message across using vague language that no one seems to understand! He should have stuck to what he said and told them to prove him wrong by actually doing their job properly – it would have made his life more difficult and perhaps the job would be untenable – but now we have lost who in my opinion was a good representative of this country, and instead the media are now celebrating hounding out a minister and are back to business as usual.

    In other words – we lost twice.

  6. المؤلم هنا أن الكلام الذي قاله بحق محمد الوكيل و التلفزيون الأردني صحيح

  7. Undiplomatic, maybe. Incorrect – far from it. Why do so many people in this country have such thin skins ? They can dish it out but they cannot take it. Ever heard of the old remark – ” if the cap fits…?” In many cases the cap fits all too well which is why so many people cannot take criticism. By the way, learning to give and take constructive criticism starts in the classroom. But this needs good, confident, respect worthy teachers, which we also lack . Again, the former Minister of Education may have got the delivery wrong, but he was right about the overall failings of your average government school teacher.

  8. I live in Zai (very close to Zai National Park) and had the opportunity to work with HE Hazem Malhas on the cleaning of Zai Park. I am not employed by the Ministry, nor did I ever hold any public office. I care a great deal about the environment. When Hazem Malhas visited Zai Park in May this year, he was devasted to see the amount of garbage piled every where. Hazem Malhas instructed that the Park should be cleaned and requested that ALL parks of Jordan be cleaned too. This was announced in the press 2 weeks ago, and became one of his ministerial projects.
    Can you believe that Hazem Malhas called me (a private sector citizen) at 6:30 am just to ask me “is the park clean now”? or “has my ministry done the job”?
    I rarely meet concerned and devoted Public Servants, dedicated people that connect the day with the night to do a well job. Hazem Malhas was one devoted Jordanian that wanted to impress us and the world. He should NOT have resigned and I second Monty’s that his metal is clean and that Hazem Malhas would always positively support anyone who does good for our country.

  9. PEOPLE!! This is a minister! Whatever he says cannot be considered his personal opinion! And there is no such thing as off the record in a public forum with journalists present. How can we get upset when a so called news website uses such language and then accept it when a minister speaks this way naming specific journalists!
    Personally, I truly believe that the state of our media (unprofessional, irresponsible,and plain lazy) are to blame for a lot of our ills. And no, I don’t blame the government on this one! A professional responsible journalist who is not easily bought and who takes his job seriously can change the whole world. There are hundreds of examples of journalists who worked under the most dictatorial and oppressive regimes yet still made a huge difference in their countries.

    In my opinion what Badran said (and the quote here is not quite accurate) was not insulting, and he immediately came out and said that he was misquoted. Yet the public reaction was incredible! Malhas clearly crossed the line. If he didn’t resign it would have been understood that this is the position of the PM and the way the Gov talks to the public!
    Have there been any accusations of misconduct of any sort against any of the ministers serving now in this government over the past 11 months which warranted a similar reaction from the PM? If the answer is yes, then please make the information public.
    I think the resignation was the right move especially because this is not the first time that Malhas has used fowl language and inappropriate behaviour in public.

  10. well we each have out wrongdoings… why would anyone wanna be a minister to begin with ? good he resigned, but not for the reasons he did. he should have resigned coz this place is disgusting

  11. @Monty Monty, can you please explain his success in the business world? The only company h truly lead was Aregon (then Optimiza). It was about to go bankrupt twice. It then became Optimiza, and from the day it did, The share price dropped from about 3 JDs to about 4 piasters. Several employees left with thousands of JDs of owed salaries, and the company is currently loosing money (check the financial reports on the Amman Stock Exchange website). That is the only metric to actually seeing whether he can truly run a company. Everyone who joined Aregon has quit, on bad terms because of his terrible management skills, and very vulgar language.

    I agree with a lot with what he said regarding the media, and I am all for open dialog. Regardless, he should not have been parachuted in with no experience in the Environment field and poor track record of running businesses.

    Good that he does not represent the government anymore…

  12. he should’ve not. but refai government can’t risk a hard relation with media at this point before elections..
    but here is where it will be interesting to me: Press is having more and more strength. First changing the new cyber crime law, now forcing a minister to resign in less than 48 hours..

    somebody up there is thinking: we should break those down.. TBW after elections

  13. Well considering that he committed a “crime” [at least تحقير] by Jordanian “law,” he most definitely did the right and ethical thing by resigning.

    Anyway, it is customary for the whole government to resign when a new parliament is elected, and you can’t expect that he would have been kept when the new government comes in. So he did what’s best for himself too by saving face.

  14. The last thing we need here is diplomatic language.. I was both surprised and happy to see someone speaking his mind freely, a minister above that all.

    When ministers stop breaking the law(interior minister allegedly ordering arrests), officials stop stealing and journalists becoming humans with brains(not intelligence agents) , ONLY THEN we should care about diplomatic language. He should not have resigned specially when what he said is 99% true

    And Wakil is a whiny clueless rude idiot, everybody knows it.

  15. The chosen words were not necessarily wrong as the talk above underlines a political agenda of his, i.e. he chose the words knowing exactly what he wanted to deliver. He definitely should not have resigned for that, and apology here is a total political practice of him, the executive at large, and the PM precisely. His resignation might be a statement on its own.

    Does any insider know if he was asked to issue an apology?

  16. As always we chose to select a certain negative aspect and forget about the big picture. Hazem Malhas spoke for 50 minutes in a testimony about the pathetic nature of environmental management and media reporting in Jordan. About 49.5 minutes of what he said was technically right and 0.5 minutes were politically incorrect in singling out certain individuals and calling them bad names. I hope for the sake of documentation that the full text will be available for all people to read and listen to although it was only recorded by Al-Sinayeah TV while the audio recoring of the 4 minutes posted was by a Jordanian journalist present in the workshop and who did not ask anyone, especially the Minister to allow the recording (typical media ethics in Jordan). Hazem Malhas is a person with his faults, as anyone of us. Working with him I can say he is one of the most honest and dedicated persons who have a passion for environemnt I ever saw. he has shaken a lot of the traditioanl and useless systems in governance and was intolerant of incompetence. He put his personal interests out of the way and even refused to take the official perdiems given to public employees when he rarely travelled on duties. In the same day of his ill-fated speech he should have been in Japan but opted for staying in Jordan to supervise clean up campaigns. The best option for Mr Malhas is to have an aggressive approach as an NGO activist and put pressure on both the government and the media. As for the celebrations by the media, I think they should take an honest look at the quality of their work and not been driven away by the so-called victory and I hope tehy will work on targeting a really corrupt minister. Moreover, the media should work on the 30+ issues that the former Minister highlighted during his testimony and verbally “challenged” all media people to tackle, which will not happen as I expect.

  17. That reminds me of a childhood memory
    I was a little kid growing up and had a voracious *still do* appetite to collecting a ridiculous amount and random and mostly useless information. And every so often my dad and my grandfather would state some piece of information that i know that is not true and i would object and state the truth but will always be reprimanded for it. So after my mom figured out that i can’t take a hint she took me to the side and told me that i shouldn’t be embarrassing older people in public and if i feel so obliged to correct anyone i should do it in private but she stressed again that its better to not do it at all. So i stopped bothering and i would just laugh it off in my head and move on.
    I thank my mother for that piece of advice because it has taught me to tolerate imbeciles and their stupidity for if i actually cared enough about correcting them at my own job i would have ended up wasting my entire doing so and i wouldn’t have had the time to get anything done… becoming an imbecile myself.

  18. I think most people here are missing the point. Mr. Mallhas used inappropriate language and insults against fellow Jordanians and human beings. I refuse to accept anyone treating others in this manner. Mr. Malhas is well known in Jordan for his lack of respect towards other people. In his previous organizations he has often cursed other people and insulted them thinking that he is of a better status than they are. Regardless that a lot of what he says about the environmental issues are right, he has no right to insult others, rather he can lead by example.

    Mr. Malhas seems to be offended on behalf of the environment because people do not give it the right respect, how about human beings Mr. Malhas, do they not deserve respect?

    This bullish aggressive attitude has no place in the professional world. If he thinks some people are qualified (not that he has shown any proper qualifications in any organization he’s lead or any success rate to brag about) then replace them or train them.

    This man offended fellow Jordanian citizens and as a Jordanian citizen I refuse to accept that. I think his resignation should only be a small part of the penalty he pays. Serving some time behind bars for these kind of comments might not be that inappropriate in this situation.

    Once again you can be 100% right but the minute you treat people with a lack of respect you lose the battle, I learned that when I was 6, you’d think someone at his level would know that by now.

    Amir

  19. if it was about Akwakeel, the minister has the full right to say whatever bad and ugly word about him.
    because truly he is very dirty and vulgur person and thinks he is the only jordanian who loves jordan .

  20. Malhas’ might have been abrasive compared to today’s sugar quoted official communication standards, but that’s how he is, and PM probably knew that when he hired him for office. Heck I met him for 1 hour 10 years ago and I immediately could tell he is determined, visionary, and has an over the top attitude.

    A culture of honesty and accountability is lacking in the official and public circles, as opposed to staged public handshakes, lunches, and fruitless memorandum signings ceremonies.

    I think he would have been able to effect a change. Some damage control was required, but not a resignation.

  21. Not that I defend him but he should not because of his comments says what MOST of us say about the Jordanian TV anyway, we are becoming politically correct society and stating to be sensitive to telling the truth! Do you really think that some of the journalist (Not saying all) prepare about the subject when they write about, well if the answer is yes then watch the morning show (youm jadeed) on the TV, that show goes on satellite! Being popular because you help people on your radio or t show does not make you a good journalist, yeah you can be great social worker

  22. It seems to me that most people are missing the point. Once Mr. Malhas accepted the job as Minister, he began to represent Jordan, it’s government, and its King. Do you think that His Majesty would make such unprofessional and inappropriate remarks in a forum like this? Do you think he would countenance someone else making them in his name? Of course not.

    Whether true or not, Malhas should never have bad-mouthed the media in public. If he were to get involved in a scandal of a sexual nature that embarrassed Jordan, should he not be asked to resign? Of course he would. Embarrassing behavior is embarrassing behavior…

    This is not his first embarrassing incident and is unlikely to be the last he would perpetrate. It is right that he should leave. We need people who are qualified, trained, and understand their role. He was not a watchdog, he was a Minister.

    If his comments about journalists are true, which I don’t doubt, then journalists should be calling attention to this, not Ministers. Nas, this is the role of a good Journalism Association. It’s also the role of good journalists. I know that you are one such journalist, perhaps you can take this under your banner to help your entire profession.

    Thank goodness he resigned and not a moment too soon!

  23. Mr Malhas was often too casual in formal events…and he was not 100% qualified for this position – But I am somehow grateful for his honesty and courage which was missed in other ministers of environment; in a democratic society, even journalism can be critisized if the perfromance is lousy..

  24. @Amir – By your logic the majority of the country should spend some time in jail because I really don’t see much respect being shown by many people towards anything let alone each other…and sorry – but people need to earn your respect – just because they are Jordanian doesn’t mean they automatically qualify.

  25. Mustafa

    Just because a person is a human being, he/she deserves respect. A creation of God deserves respect period. Malhas or any other human being has no right going around calling people hameer or other such words.

    I suggest that ministers and others learn from his majesty who treats every Jordanian citizen with respect.

  26. يا جماعه الخير، البلد على كف عفريت ،ما يحصل في الأردن ألا وهوا نتيجه حتميه ومستقبل متوقع لبلد وشعب سلبت حقوقه السياسيه والمدنيه والأقتصاديه مند عقود ،أتو لنا بوازاره هامله وليس لها شرعيه ككل الوزارات الفاشله وهذا نمودج

  27. @Batir, very well said. We tend as Jordanians to miss all good qualities of a good citizen, and get stuck up about the color of his jacket or his pants.
    @Amir, yes we as humans generally and as Jordanians specifically deserve good respect. But what have you or me, done to stop insults (verbal, physical or mental) that go on in every walk of our daily life in Jordan.
    Malhas was a scapegoat. Many insult fellow Jordanians on daily basis, but no one was ever forced to appolgize in public. I fully respect him for that. We should, above all, evaluate what the man has tried to do for Jordan, than keep picking on him that he picked his nose in public.

  28. truer words could not have been spoken about jordanian media. they are a disgrace. many (not all but many) will attend press conferences for the free meal/coffee break and chance to rub shoulders at some fancy office or hotel. they will pretend to take notes but when you read the article next day, it’s exactly the same press release you gave them… mistakes and all.

    there are no investigative reporters, tv journalists if you can call them that, are dolls with way too much make up (both men and women) that only read from telepromters. do they research on the topic they’re talking about? do they even know what the hell they’re talking about? no.

    Hazem Malhas’ only mistake was that he went too far by swearing at the media. if he had used the same tone and same style but refrained from swearing, i think he would’ve of (and should’ve) received a standing ovation. it’s the swearing that got him in trouble cuz that’s just not professional. not in the workplace and certainly not as a minister representing the jordanian people and government.

    i applaud Hazem Malhas for saying out loud what we all say in the privacy of our social circles. shame on the media for pretending to be journalists. i just wish he kept it clean.

  29. @Former Employee of Hazem Malhas: I think if you have gievance with Malhas, and obviuosly feel so strong about it you should be man enough to put forward your real name. Any dispute has 2 sides and I think you are taking opportunity to get even

  30. Neutral

    Its amazing the attitude people take on here. If someone steals should we say its ok because a lot of people steal? If someone treats others with a lack of respect, should we all say its ok because there are many that do that.

    Actions should have consequences. Theives should go to jail, people that insult other respectable human beings have not place in a public position.

    This its ok attitude because others do it has to stop somewhere. Otherwise we are not looking out for the best interest of Jordan.

    Amir

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