How Jordan Brought The House Down On Freedom Of The Press

Remember when the Bush administration decided to handle protesters simply by taking them to a designated “free speech zone” (also known as a “free speech cage”)? Well, Jordan’s Lower House of Parliament seems set on doing the same thing these days. Essentially, they’ve designated a room by the main entrance of the Parliament building for members of the press, who are not allowed beyond that point. When they need to do their reporting, a Parliamentary press attache sweeps in to feed them the talking points. When the press want to see an “elected” member of Parliament, the attache will organize it and questions can only be asked in the presence of House staff.

These latest happenings, first dreamt up a few weeks back, have been seen as an escalation to the ongoing battle between the mainstream media and members of Parliament, which saw its climax last week after the four major dailies declared a boycott on reporting from the Parliament in protest of them upholding the Cultural Tax bill, which would see a 5% tax levied on media and anyone else who makes their money through advertising.

Something interesting happened during those few days of boycotting: Jordanian politics did not come to an end.

In other words, no one cared.

In other words, it showed us just how defunct the entire parliamentary institution is in this country. Whether the government passes laws properly through the legislative branch or implements its own temporary laws, no one cares. The public has long deserted the government and its parliament. No expectations are set thus no expectations are met.

Beyond the purely symbolic, participatory act of voting every four years in a fraudulent electoral process that resembles an act out of the Moscow Circus, Jordanians have benefited nothing from their so-called “elected” Parliament – a branch of government so insignificant that when four major daily newspapers stop reporting on its activities for a week, no one notices. The movie goes on and no one in the audience has any idea. In fact, as columnist Jamil Nimri might argue, the only reason any one ever cared about something Parliament did was because the press was there to report it.

In other words, if something happens in Parliament and no one is around to report it, does that mean it ever happened?

I mean really, when your presence as a legislative body has been reduced to a long-standing philosophical argument, you have to wonder, were you really ever that important in the first place?

This recent boycott, whether one approves of it or not, was a clear demonstration at just how defunct this branch of government is. And it’s not their fault. This is like blaming a mentally-challenged child for being mentally-challenged. The reality of the situation is, his mother was a drug addict and nine months in that womb did not make for a healthy growing environment. In other words, the reason our Parliament is in the shape it’s in is largely due to the powers-that-be. In other words, it is what it is, because that’s how people want it to be.

This isn’t just about Parliament, but the entire political system that has integrated this body of government, and often times used it as a scapegoat. We forget that the bigger problems actually lie in the executive branch. We forget that being a useless member of parliament isn’t really a crime (unless they’re signing our laws), and is in no way comparable to, say, ministers who should be under investigation for much larger crimes.

What’s the solution. Unfortunately, there is none. Anything we can think of right now, including the dismissal of the Parliament or the declaration of new elections or strengthening an independent judiciary to induce greater transparency and accountability – all of these would be nothing short of band-aid solutions. As long as people are not allowed to truly elect who governs them, then all of these details are just futile arguments designed to distract us from the larger problem.

But if band-aid solutions are all we have, then Parliament should be dismissed. Let the media go after the executive branch for a while instead of chasing red herrings.

As for free press. Well. Nuff said.


  • I relate to a governing body’s desire to have an organized space to dessiminate information, where the attache, house speaker, accused legal figure etc. is able to stand in one known regular space to be “on the stand” for the press.

    When an event happens, or a decision passes, you know where you’re going to hear more about it or contest it.

    However, I hardly believe that such a “controlled” process for “free speech” is any less barbaric than the way it was before. Probably more because, from what I’ve seen, Jordanian media hates rules or taking turns or any sort system to reach their stories. It’s a blood bath and the toss-up is just between having it concentratd in a 12×12 room or all over the front stairs!

    As for boycotts, I frankly don’t believe they accomplish anything in general. Not in Jordan, anyway. My friends there always have some kinda new boycott fad, it’s ridiculous. Boycott burger king, boycott beef, boycott chinese rice, boycott mcdonalds, boycott american brands, boycott jewish owned companies, boycott this magazine, don’t support this movie, that artist.

    Obviously, none of these brands, things, people have been affected by any of it, and whaddaya know – boycott’s over and you’re right back paying for it in a month.


    “nuff said”

  • Fahed Al Kheitan wrote a very good piece today..Check it out..
    On a side note:
    The government is appointed.
    The senate is appointed.
    The house is appointed-or might I say- elected ::LOL::
    No one really cares.. Kheitan called it an immunity disorder..I call it a national ADD epidemic.

  • agreed, but the executive branch are not solely responsible for our state of affairs.
    a discriminatory election law, and even more profoundly, discriminatory gerrymandering of election districts, allow the executive government to remain the patriarchal and non-egalitarian institute they are…
    that is on a political level. on a sociall level, every time i am in amman it feels like i am being suffocated with headline morality but at the same time there is a near complete dearth of ethics. our parliamentarians and our ministers only reflect that. they give us moral sermons. but they have abandoned the public good, they squander our money and they abuse their power.
    didn’t someone once say every people have the government they deserve?

  • Deena: the aforementioned elements you listed, such as a discriminatory election law, etc, are all governed by the executive and used for the purpose of control and domination. These are all institutes created, supported and championed (to a large extent) by the executive branch.

    as for the social level. i do agree with you. but then again, we are talking about a political environment that has been created for the purpose of breeding bad-representation. if the landscape was opened up i think the emerging factors would create something a bit more inducive to a new breed of representation. to say nothing of the such an environment granting citizens the ability to hold their MP’s feet to the fire.

Your Two Piasters: