I have been reading the local papers today with some amusement. The ripple effects of the King’s meeting with media industry representatives are making headlines only a day after that meeting. It’s as if with one sweeping statement, everything has changed. Now while the King’s words are in all probability sincere, a commentator in yesterday’s post on the topic rightly pointed out something crucial: this is not an issue requiring a top-down solution. It’s just not that simple. The core of this issue, from the very bottom, needs to be adjusted in order to get the desired outcome. While vision at the top is there, it’s everything beneath that seems to be missing.
And with that in mind, the Lower House Financial and Economic Committee committee, upon hosting its own meeting with media reps, has extended it’s support for the issue, and “called on media establishments to provide it with pieces of legislation they wish to amend in order to examine and submit related amendments to the Lower House.” [source]
Now this is an interesting development. While such a meeting could have easily preceded the Kings’, it came right after, which gives me the perception that this isn’t the Lower House taking initiative but simply pandering to the highest common denominator. We are stuck in this system where things do not work and when the King speaks with a sense of frustration, everyone in government (be they elected or appointed) scrambles to please. I can draw on at least half a dozen examples just from this past year. And I’m not a political expert but something tells me that this isn’t the way government should work.
Also, the issue of media reform in this country always seems to come with one giant string attached: the responsibility of the media.
I completely agree that the media sector requires a high sense of responsibility, especially if we’re striving for a free speech scenario. It is essentially (in theory) the public’s arm for accountability, and that comes with an obvious degree of responsibility. The reason this point is stressed is because the local press does have the tendency to stray from journalism ideals and run unsubstantiated stories as fact, every now and then. Keeping in mind that most people in this sector have not had the necessary training or education to be journalists, you are still stuck with editorial boards that run stories with no fact-checking. The repercussions are sometimes enormous, as we witnessed earlier on this past summer.
That being said, there is no leeway here. There is no room to operate. I don’t think people in this country really understand how difficult it is to get someone on the record. To get information. If their sources are willing to speak out about something, few are willing to go on record. People are afraid to speak up or have their name attached to their words in print, and with good reason. Sources are incredibly hard to come by, and it’s frustrating when you’re talking about a society that loves to talk and loves to show how they’re in-the-know, even if they’re not.
Access to information. Access to information. Access to information.
It’s a point worth repeating three times. With no access, there is no information, and with no information you open doors that are best left closed. There need to be protective laws; ones that allow for whistle-blowers in the worst case, as well as a journalist’s right to protect his or her sources.
But right now, all we’re getting is pandering:
Al Arab Al Yawmâ€™s Chief Editor Taher Adwan told The Jordan Times that journalists are citizens in the first place and should be held accountable if they break the law.
â€œPress freedom is two-fold: Protecting the media on the one hand, and protecting society and individuals from defamation at the hands of the media on the other,â€ Adwan said.
He added that the ball now is in the journalistsâ€™ court and they must act accordingly to safeguard the profession and its image. [source]
So essentially, after the King assures everyone the media’s reaction is to place the ball in it’s own court. Are things really that simple?
Even NGOs are getting on board…
“Although the King has spoken on this topic on several occasions, this time his message was strong, direct and clear. It is obviously geared towards acting quickly to amend discriminatory laws against women and ensuring a safe environment for children,” said Jordanian National Commission for Women (JNCW) Secretary General Asma Khader.
“It is an indication that lawmakers need to adopt additional procedures to amend discriminatory legislation, including laws that offer leniency to killers in so-called honour crimes and improve services for abused women and children in our society,”
Again, this isn’t a system that should be based on waiting for the King to say something. It needs to be automatic. Where was Parliament (both the elected and appointed halves) when it came to calling for media reform or domestic abuse or honor crimes? No where. Even now they’re barely there, and that’s a year after the elected half was voted in.
The whole concept that I, as a Jordanian citizen, am unlikely to see change in a whole myriad of issues until the King talks about them all, is simply disheartening. If this is the equation, then what will it take to change the biggest problems plaguing us today? Would it take 6 hours of the King speaking on prime time television, running down the list of all the things that should be changed before we actually see any change?
The answer is an unfortunate no. If that absurd circumstance were to ever take place then what you would see is a whole lot of pandering and a whole lot of scurrying around the very next day and perhaps in the weeks to follow, as everyone ran around like chickens with their heads cut off, pretending to do some work. And in a few months time, maybe a year or two from now at the most, it will all be forgotten about. Policy paper, projects, reform initiatives, legislation, master plans, will all be shelved away somewhere to collect dust, until they become someone else’s problem. Because simply put, there is no drive and no vision and no initiative from the bottom. And in the rare instance that such initiatives go through, implementation is non-existent.
I’m not a political expert, but something tells me that this isn’t the way government is supposed to work.
But that’s just my two piasters.