The other day I received an invitation to a meeting with the Prime Minister only a few hours before the meeting was actually held. Apparently, the point was for “electronic news sites” as our government loves to call them, to have a chat with Prime Minister Nader Dahabi. The post-meeting analysis was a brilliant review by the government, as is expected.
“Prime Minister Nader Dahabi’s meetings with various representatives, particularly the electronic media, reflect the governmentâ€™s conviction of the importance of these news websites,” Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Nabil Sharif said yesterday.
He added that online news adds a new element to the media sector by allowing for immediate interaction between readers over news posted on the Internet, stressing that the government has no intention of issuing any legislation hindering freedom of the press. [source]
Now here’s the thing: apparently 35 individuals were invited and only 15 showed up. I should mention right off the bat that I would have actually gone had the invitation not come so incredibly late. In truth, I knew what the meeting would be about but I was absolutely curious about the process story: what would be said at this meeting and how it would be reported (or marketed) the very next day. But since I wasn’t the only one that didn’t show up, others, including the Jordan Times, have satisfied my curiosity for me.
Apparently, there was a general “boycott” of the meeting by these “electronic news sites” (isn’t the usage of “electronic” and “sites” redundant?). The “boycott” – and I use air quotes because I’m not sure the extent to which it was organized – included, of course, Ammon News.
A fairly interesting editorial on the site describes the general reasons for the boycott, the main one being timing. Essentially, the general consensus seems to be that the invitations came too late in the context of the Dahabi government, which everyone feels is already half way through. In other words, it’s like Bush trying for peace in the Middle East a year before he leaves office.
I think there was a general taking of offense that the government is only now trying to communicate with electronic new sites after months, if not years of ignoring them. If you think about it, the only time the government ever used to acknowledge the existance of such sites was in the context of their declared desire to “legitimize” them, which is also synonymous with censorship. Today, they’re trying to make nice.
What publishers of such sites did agree on is that there is a sense of a new approach given that this meeting was arranged by Nabil Sharif soon after his appointment, contrasting his predecessor’s approach, Nasser Judah, which they claim was a burial of the rising phenomenon of these sites during his time.
In any case, the general consensus is that the timing is late and the Dahabi government has nothing of benefit to offer these sites.
I don’t the boycott was a very smart move on any of these organization, with all due respect to what they do. Reciprocating a year or two of government snubbing isn’t the best way for a media outlet to operate; at the end of the day, these people need access and the government is the one that grants it.
As for offering nothing new beyond mere words and symbolic gestures, which have a very short shelf-life in Jordan, the sites have a point.
At this point, media in Jordan, even new-media, comes down to actions.
I’m not talking about actions that manifest themselves in meetings, but rather in following that hands-off policy that King Abdullah has insisted on for some time now.
Once that track record is created, people in this industry will be a little more relaxed.
The government can talk about its love for free speech and responsible journalism, but right now, as its track record stands, it’s shown us little of that love.