I cannot say I am surprised at the news of the royal seal approving amendments to the press and publications law. There was, deep down, a part of me who thought this wouldn’t happen and felt that this was perhaps another state policy that would get knocked down by the King after public pressure. But it seems that times have indeed changed and even the voice of reason has departed the political theater.
So, what’s next? The obvious question begs itself. Will this grease the wheels for an expected telecommunications law blocking certain “immoral” sites? Yes, this now seems more likely than ever given the approval of the press law – but I’ll continue to hope I’m wrong. Will this usher in a situation of widespread blanket censorship of the Internet? I personally do not think so, as most media laws in this country are designed to do two things: first, create an environment of fear that encourages self-censorship, and second, make use of the law when deemed necessary. In a country where self-censorship amongst journalists is typically over 90%, such a law will not only solidify this environment of fear, but allow it to now expand online. And as for the application of the law, it is the primary weapon used to keep people in check – anyone who is jailed, fined, or arrested will have essentially broken a law, the morality of which few will question, to say nothing of its constitutionality.
So, what’s the solution? The legal avenues seem to have closed, and what political will was available has now gone. What does remain is merely the ability for Jordanians who are online to continue to write, produce, publish, comment, discuss, analyze, report, and debate – vigorously.
Is this me asking Jordanians to break the law? Aside from the fact that that would be illegal, I would rather put it this way:
Once upon a time the public gatherings law was the biggest impediment to anyone looking to organize or partake in a demonstration, rally, protest or sit-in. For the longest time it was the legal weapon used by the state to control the political mobilization and gathering of citizens. And then the Arab Spring came around and a wave of unyielding protests hit Jordan in January 2011, causing the eventual resignation of a prime minister and fresh promises for reform. This happened because people no longer adhered to a particular law. It happened because, in my opinion, it was an immoral law whose value was eroded the moment people chose to ignore it.
So, no, I’m not asking anyone to break the law.