Freedom of the Press
Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Jordan’s media has not seen any of the reforms promised by the government and still operates under the thumb of both oppressive media legislation and politically motivated advertisers and printers. While the constitution guarantees citizens the right to freedom of expression and of the press, articles of the penal and press codes restrict criticism of the royal family, the National Assembly, public officials, and the armed forces, as well as speech that might harm Jordan’s foreign relations. In practice, limited criticism of the government and its allies is tolerated, as is speech in favor of Islamist movements, but criticism of the royal family is still taboo. Journalists must be members of the Jordan Press Association (JPA) to work legally. In the past, critical journalists have been excluded from the JPA and prevented from practicing their profession. Although King Abdullah II has repeatedly pledged reform, the government in 2006 again failed to enact a long-awaited new press bill. The draft before the Parliament at the end of the year did not eliminate jail sentences for journalists in connection with their work and allowed for the enforcement of statutes such as Article 150 of the penal code, which bans all writing and speech that is “intended to, or results in, stirring up sectarian or racial tension or strife among different elements of the nation.”
Intelligence agencies watch journalists closely, and the government of Prime Minister Ma’ruf al-Bakhit has given free rein to these agencies, the police, and prosecutors to clamp down on legitimate speech. Editors and journalists report that they have received official warnings to refrain from publishing certain articles or to avoid certain topics and that security officials have pressured printers to hold publications until editors agree to remove sensitive stories. Several journalists were arrested in 2006 for articles criticizing the government or detailing sensitive political information. In January and February, the Jordanian weeklies Al-Mehwar and Shihan published caricatures of the prophet Muhammad that had first appeared in Denmark’s Jyllands-Posten in September 2005. The two papers’ respective editors, Hisham al-Khalidi and Jihad Mu’mini, were charged with “offending religious feelings” and given two-month prison sentences in May; they were released pending their appeal. The death of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a Jordanian-born terrorist leader in Iraq, also proved contentious, as Jordanian authorities interrupted a June interview with his brother-in-law on the Qatar-based satellite television station Al-Jazeera and briefly detained the station’s Amman bureau chief, Yassir Abu Hilala. Several members of Parliament were arrested for consoling members of al-Zarqawi’s family and charged under Article 150 of the penal code. A state security court in August sentenced two of the lawmakers to prison terms and fines, but they were pardoned by the king in September. In December, three photojournalists were assaulted in Parliament after taking photos of an altercation between two legislators.
The government owns substantial shares in Jordan’s two leading daily newspapers, and all publications must obtain licenses from the state. There are high taxes on the media industry and tariffs on paper, and the government has been criticized for advertising primarily in newspapers in which it owns a stake. In 2003, the government officially gave up its monopoly on domestic television and radio broadcasting by creating the Audiovisual Licensing Authority, which in 2004 began to license and regulate private radio and television outlets. No restrictions are placed on satellite broadcasts, and satellite dishes continue to proliferate. The Jordanian government is actively seeking to promote access to the internet and says it places no restrictions on the 11 percent of the population who use the internet.