Jordan Media: Signs of Change to Come

A few days ago Amman hosted the Global Forum for Media Devolopment conference. If you remember at the time it got me talking about conferences in general and why we host them. An interesting article about the results of that conference had some positive things to say about media in Jordan and the direction both the government and the industry want to see it go.

What was interesting about it was the language of the politics; the language of the state. The relationship between the Jordanian government and the Jordanian media has always been an unhealthy one. State control and censorship have ruled over the media since it began. The Deputy Prime Minister, Dr. Marwan Muasher, gave us another sneak peek at what reforms the National Agenda aims to implement for the next 10 years concerning the media and freedom of speech. Rarely has the government admitted to either making mistakes or not doing enough.

Lately if you notice many of the speeches in the past year or so have been along the lines of "we need to do more". This is a region where language is important, the sentiment it sends rippling through society is essential to the balance between stability and chaos. This is also a region where words are rarely backed up with actions, so it’s rare that a government ever aims to do both.

“The steps Jordan has taken are necessary for the development of a truly independent media in the country, but they are far from sufficient,” “We are well on our way to create a modern legislative framework within which our media can flourish. Our aim, however, does not stop there. We need to evolve towards a culture where diversity is seen as a source of strength rather than weakness, and where criticism of the state is tolerated by the state, and by society in general.” Muasher explained that as part of its ten-year National Agenda reform program, the government has made it a priority to rewrite the country’s media laws so that independent media can flourish.

Rewriting the country’s laws sends very significant signs of the change to come. Here is a look at the suggested reforms coming our way:

The most controversial aspect of the government’s proposed reforms was the plan to abolish the practice of requiring journalists to be members of the press syndicate. In response, the Jordan Press Assocation organized a strike for an hour across the country prior to the session. According to opponents of the practice who spoke at the session, forced membership in a journalists’ syndicate is a commonly used system for controlling the press in the Arab world, in that journalists whose reports displease the syndicate can lose their membership and thus their ability to work as journalists. Many in the audience criticized the syndicate as a tool for repression of free media. Muasher also announced other reforms the Jordanian government has undertaken, including the dismantling, two years ago, of the Ministry of Information in a first step to disengage direct state control over the state media. The law has also been amended to allow for private TV and radio outlets to operate. Draft laws are before parliament establishing independent boards to run state TV and radio, Muasher said. The government has proposed an umbrella media law that would contain principles guaranteeing the independence of the media. These would ensure that no journalists could be detained for publishing articles or information, that all disputes between the media and the government would be referred to the court system, and that no media organizations could be shut down or suspended by the government. In addition, the state would pass a law to protect personal freedoms and to guard against libel. "We are so proud to have this gathering here in Jordan," said Basel Tarawneh, Director General of the Jordan Information Center and one of the speakers at the session on Jordanian media reform. "This session is a demonstration of freedom of expression in our country."

The reforms of the National Agenda are eagerly being pushed by the HM the King to be implemented as soon as possible. The language and messages of the past two years suggests exactly that. For the media to flourish a proper framework that allows them the freedom to do so is essential. This isn’t about simply giving lisences at random to anyone wanting to launch a tv station or a newspaper. If the framework that ensures their freedom and their protection is absent then there’s no purpose. We don’t want a media that is a veneer of democracy, we want a media that represents democracy and pushes it forward. So these reforms are something to look forward to. It will be nice to see a time in our history when journalists can say what they want without ending up in a jail cell or loosing their careers.

This conference was a good arena to put forth the ideas of reform in the media that the government hopes to accomplish in the near future and shed some light on it for public consumption in the short run. It also opened a dialouge of debate between the state and journalists: another rare event for Jordan. I’m optimistic for the first time in a long time that these words and this language will be backed up by these reforms and we can look back 10 years from now at historical talking points that really meant something at the time. [article]

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