Yesterday, Environment Minister Hazem Malhas, resigned his post from the Rifai cabinet after having insulted Jordanian journalists. The remarks happened during a workshop organized by IUCN and UNESCO on journalism and covering environmental issues (full disclosure, our company, 7iberINC, is conducting a full day training in the 4-day workshop).Essentially, Malhas referred to the state of Jordanian journalism using somewhat derogatory language, pointing to specific people that included the likes of radio host Mohammad Al Wakeel and the host of the Jordanian “60 Minutes” that runs on Jordan TV. However, what Malhas was highlighting was the fact that few journalists conduct any type of fact-checking or, in the case of an interview he had on 60 Minutes, are even prepared for interviews.
While Malhas used sweeping generalizations to categorize the state of Jordanian journalism, there is little of what he said that wasn’t in fact true and widely known. In one example, Malhas pointed to a recent article in a local newspaper that mentioned the existance of water wells in a town in Tafeeleh that does not exist. Malhas also went so far as to point out a candidate running for a parliamentary seat in Zarqa that he believes to be responsible for the destruction of the Zarqa seil, and the fact that no one in media is prepared to question the candidate.
Sound clips from the workshop where Malhas made these statements are already up on YouTube.
The Jordan Press Association naturally called for a face-to-face apology but instead, Malhas resigned his post as a minister after only a few months on the job. Malhas took full responsibility for his remarks and accepted any wrongdoing.
While it’s great to see any government official take full responsibility for something and apologize for it (an incredibly rare event in Jordan), this naturally forces me to wonder whether we are to expect apologies and a similar kind of public accountability for past offenses that range from ludicrous statements to outright corruption charges. And I’m not talking about time traveling to a different era in Jordanian politics, but merely in these past five years. Heck, I’ll take this past year.
Naturally, I do not expect such moves to be made, and neither does any Jordanian reading this. And this brings me to my main point: was it right that Malhas resign his post over these few comments when worse things have been said and done by government officials in the past? This is also keeping in mind that while his approach may have lacked any sense of diplomatic language – there was little about what he said that wasn’t true. The general consensus of comments left by users on this article seems to be “while we disagree with how he said it, what he said was right”.
Minister of Education, Badran, insulted teachers all over the Kingdom who were demanding a union by telling them to go “shave their beards first before they ask for a union”. His remarks were not only invalid and outright insulting, they created a national crisis that manifested in a nationwide strike by teachers that lasted for months and caused the government to issue pay raises in lieu of a union in order to appease the teachers (this is also known as a bribe), to say nothing of forcing an early cabinet reshuffle for the Rifai government.
Yet, with Badran, like ministers before, no apology was issued and neither was a resignation. He was technically swept aside in the reshuffle but that gave enough clout to allow him to save face.
Malhas also made the comments in a workshop full of journalists, and thus the conversation felt rather informal, if not off-the-record to begin with (although I don’t know if that’s something that was made clear to anyone in the room, including the person using his cellphone to record the above YouTube audio clip). In other words, this was a minister giving a personal opinion on the status quo rather than repeating the government line.
It seems to me that Malhas’s case was that of bad timing, specifically with regards to the government’s need for a friendly media sector with elections being held in two weeks. Now is simply not a great time to be making enemies in journalist circles. In other words, this situation seems to spell out “scapegoat” to me, and one should not be fooled in to thinking that this any real sign of government self-accountability; the term itself is fairly oxymoronic and even more so when it comes to the Jordanian state.
Was it cause for an apology? Yes.
But that’s just my take on things.