Why Are Jordanian News Sites Still Bad? And Why Isn’t Porn Blocked Yet?

I’ve been a bit confused about something I’ve observed online recently and maybe a fellow Jordanian out there can shed some light for me.

So, over a year ago, while the government was crafting amendments to the Press and Publication law to include the registration (and subsequent censorship) of what the law called “electronic publications” (i.e. anything with a pulse online) – during that time, many of us were scrambling to fight back. Many of us were saying: listen, we understand there’s a problem with news websites, and we understand that you (the government) have a problem with news websites who don’t exactly tow the line, but this law isn’t going to do it. This law will only induce censorship – either that of the “self” or that which is imposed by the law through legal ramifications: blocking websites, fines, etc. The other side, the “defenders” – and I don’t know what to call this group but let’s call them Group X for brevity- adopted the government’s line and defended the decision. Now Group X has a history of defending the government’s line, especially in a turbulent Arab Spring where a feeling for the need to defend most things in the name of stability and security was deemed necessary.

Now the following may be based solely on my personal observation of the local online community, but maybe others have noticed something similar.

For of all the people who complained the most about Jordanian news sites, members of Group X were easily the most vocal. And this made their defense of the government’s decision probable. Check a Facebook timeline or a Twitter feed or a blog post back then – and you’ll always see someone from Group X posting away about how awful and how unprofessional and how ridiculous these news sites are. Check them today, and you’ll see the same people continuing to complain about the same news sites.

But what I didn’t understand is this: if these news sites are so awful, and you believe the government’s decision to amend the Press law in order to “regulate” them was the right decision, then:

a) Why do you continue to post up links to stories on these news sites? If you don’t believe they’re professional and believe they mostly lie, then why continue to use them as your source/reference? And don’t give me the “I only post from ‘trusted’ websites” because that’s arbitrary bullshit. I see people who have constantly complained about Khabberni, Ammon and Saraya and continue to simultaneously use them as their sources.

b) Now that it’s been over a year, and some news sites have registered, while others have been blocked, including blogs like 7iber (which the government, the senate and members of Group X all assured everyone such a thing could never possibly happen in Jordan) – now that this has all taken place, what has changed? Every time I get on a social network all I see are Group X members continuing to complain about how awful these news sites are (while continuing to use them as sources). And if we’re being honest – many of these news sites everyone seemed to have a problem with have registered and actually gotten worse in quality. While I haven’t really posed the question, but I’m dying to know whether Group X still believes this was the right way to go.

c) Lastly, when all of this started back in August 2012, it was initiated not by a call to “regulate” news websites, but by a call to block Internet pornography in Jordan. A dozen or so – let’s just call them religiously-oriented citizens – “protested” outside the Ministry of ICT, arguing something about the morality of youth, gathered signatures online and had the government considering it. Members of Group X mostly seemed adamant that this too was the right thing to do, which was ironic because most people from this group are not exactly fans of Islamic-oriented politics infiltrating our beautiful secular system, but I guess even liberals can be conservative. So that was a strange time. But a few weeks later the government forgets about porn websites and amends the Press law to target news websites. Since then, not a peep has been heard from anyone when it comes to blocking porn.

And so I’m forced to ask: where did everyone go? What changed so suddenly after the Press law was amended that blocking porn sites and the morality of our youth is no longer an issue?

And I don’t want to sound acrimonious towards any specific group of people. What’s done is done. I’m just trying to understand the reasoning. I’m trying to glean what lessons have been learned by all this? Has the law helped “create” a better media environment? Has it forced content to change towards a better direction? Or are we exactly where we were 2 years ago? There are no easy answers but I recommend looking through Sawsan Zaideh’s ongoing content analysis of Jordanian media (offline/online) on 7iber’s “Ghirbal” page for some useful insights.

These are important questions because we Jordanians have the collective memory of a fish. We think this is just another passing tide in the turbulent ocean we reside in, but the truth of the matter is, this isn’t going away. More people are getting online everyday. The Internet is become an increasingly integral part of our daily lives. Moreover, the world is moving online. Moreover, with increased data and users – governments, corporations and organizations will continue to look for ways to monitor, censor, and control this vast digital space. Issues of Internet governance and privacy, while not getting much attention locally (and barely regionally), are going to be the issue of the next decade or more. It is going to dominate the discourse right alongside big-ticket issues like social security or corruption. It will get there because that’s the way all of this is evolving. It is, inevitable. And so these questions need to be grappled with.

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Zoom out.

And we find Turkey is in the midst of its own battle with Internet censorship, with protesters taking to the street recently and battling riot police water cannons.

The new legislation allows government ministers to block websites deemed to infringe privacy, as well as force internet providers to retain information on their users, for up to two years. The bill also mandates ISPs to restrict access to proxy sites, making circumventing the censorship nearly impossible. The new legislation also raises fines for not removing the content requested by the authorities. If the content is not removed within 24 hours after the request, it will be blocked by the Telecommunications Directorate (TÄ°B). Appealing against blocking would only be possible after the event. In addition, web hosting services will be required to become part of a state-controlled association, which will be a mediator between the TÄ°B and the hosting services. The amendment also gives the courts power to remove material from the internet that “violates individual rights” upon request from individuals and government officials. [source]

Sounds familiar? Looking at the description of the draft law one is forced to recognize that the objective is pretty much the same: the ability for the government to fine, block, censor, etc., when it comes to content published online by its citizens. It’s as simple as that. The problems with the law, as activists and media observers have noted, are also eerily similar: arbitrary government decisions anyone? Check. The Turkish government has framed the necessity of the law as a matter of “online privacy” rather than state regulation or censorship.

But I draw on the Turkish example not just because they seem to be going through a similar stage (and I’m sure if Jordan had the population of Turkey, and its Internet users, we might’ve been in a worse situation today) – but I draw on the example because of all the countries in the region, Turkey is debatably high on the list of nations that Jordanians have been watching closely for several years now. And knowing that neither Erdogan nor his government have many friends amongst Group X Jordanians who view them as creeping Islamists – it will be interesting to see how this is played out online. So I wonder, how can you defend your own government’s decision to “regulate” websites, and then turn around and criticize the leadership of a neighboring country who is doing something quite similar.

This is usually when Group X says something like “at least we’re not Turkey” or something of equal ridiculousness.

Regional relativism at its best.

2 thoughts on “Why Are Jordanian News Sites Still Bad? And Why Isn’t Porn Blocked Yet?

  1. everytime I read one of your articles I just get more pissed as to why you insist on tainting this country’s image on the internet.

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