In a recent annual report on press freedoms by the French-based rights organization, Reporters Without Borders, Jordan improved 16 spots this past year to rank 112th out of 175. In the context of the rest of the region, I would argue that these “improvement” have very little to do with any visible on-the-ground improvements in Jordan’s media industry, and more to do with the fact that no serious violations occurred this year and the rest of the region seems to have done worse, which helps jack up the rankings. In fact, major milestones registered by RWB this past year pretty much sums up the situation as it stands.
El-Ekhbariya editor, Fayez Al-Ajrashi, was freed on bail after being held by the Sate Security Court for several days for the usual: “inflaming sectarian strife”. Khaled Mahadin, who was sued by Parliament for slander, was acquitted back in April. Two Iranian-funded satellite stations operating in Amman were closed down in July for (officially) not have the right accreditation.
RWB, however, did not mention the Jordan Press Association’s recent dispute and subsequent boycott of Parliament after it was marginalized by the Lower House, which sought to place restrictions on the movements of journalists under the dome. Although, one could argue that the boycott had less to do with the JPA’s love-hate relationship with press freedoms and more to do the proposed 5% culture tax that would have taken a decent chunk out of newspaper profits that make millions from advertising revenue. That tax was scrapped soon after the JPA and Parliament “resolved” their differences.
Also on the hit list this past year, and quite literally, was when Parliamentarian Khalil Atiyyeh threw a stapler at Rum Online journalist Nidal Faraaneh for writing “unethical” stories about him. I don’t recall seeing any further details on this specific case, but suffice to say, Atiyyeh redeemed himself after burning an Israeli flag in Parliament a month later, which, as we all know, is a fire hazard. Then there was Interior Minister Nayef Qadi’s foolish calling of some journalists as having foreign agendas and paid by foreign entities, and that journalists in Jordan were not writing enough positive stories.
So, on a positive note, we should also recall the King’s public declaration that no journalists would be jailed from here on in. I just hope that in the year since the King has made this declaration, someone in government has thought to maybe write that down in the form of a law.
However, more important than the mere events and foreign reports are the internal audits; our own numbers.
For instance, in one study released this past year, 43% of journalists claim to have been offered some form of “incentives”, mostly from the government, with 17% firmly believing that the government uses financial incentives to put some journalists in its back pocket. It would not be a stretch of the imagination to assume that these numbers are soft, and the real figures are likely to be higher.
Then there’s self-censorship, which according to a study released on World Press Freedom Day back in May, is something that is practiced by 94% of Jordanian journalists.
With all that in mind, I would be weary of anyone in the Jordanian government, or local media for that matter, who might frame these latest results as an improvement, when in fact, in their rightful context, they are nothing short of pulling the status quo.
Also worth reading is Nidal Mansour’s column in today’s Alghad.