Remember when HM King Abdullah said that journalists wouldn’t be jailed any more? Well they can still be sued. As many know by now, Khalid Mahadin was just sued by the Lower House of Parliament for “slander” after publishing an article on Kheberni.com entitled, “For Godâ€™s Sake, Abdullah”, where he criticized members of Parliament. To be honest, I’ve read a whole lot worse in both mainstream and online media in Jordan, so I don’t know what the big deal is when it comes to this specific article, unless someone is settling a personal score. In fact, I think it’s a pretty light read compared to some of the more scathing material out there.
Is saying that members of parliament are not doing a good job considered slanderous? If that’s the benchmark then we’re setting another precedent where any form of criticism will be met with a lawsuit. And if they can’t jail writers any more then lawsuits will be flying left and right.
Hopefully this case will be thrown out with the trash it came in on.
On another note, I find it interesting that while those in government keep emphasizing the role of “responsible journalism” – a term which is fairly ill defined but, in most circles translates roughly to “don’t talk about us” – those in government have yet to understand the meaning of “slander”. In fact, I admit, I don’t understand what the word means anymore. I understand its extremes, such as, for instance, charging that a public official is corrupt with no evidence of it is slanderous. But to say that public official is doing a bad job?
This is the problem when the government is formed in a non-democratic manner: no one in it is beholden to a constituency. In other words, being an elected public official means you’re going to get a lot of people criticizing you but in a democratic process, it’s typically not a good idea to sue the people who vote for you. But since even members of parliament here get elected through a generally-corrupted process, there is generally no worry about the fallback of going after the people you represent. You can even throw blunt objects at them.
This is another example of how media, even online media, is still unsafe and unsure in Jordan. There are no protective measures beyond the words of the King, and every now and then, those words are tested with actions that contrast them and nullify them.
On a final but related note, this March 12th is the second annual World Day Against Cyber Censorship as organized by Reporters Without Borders and Amnesty International. It will be a reminder that in many countries around the world, including our own, there are many people fighting for the right to simply speak their minds.