Freedom of the Press
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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)
Already suffering from oppressive media legislation and government pressure on advertisers, Jordan’s media environment deteriorated in 2008 as security agencies continued to harass journalists and a government body prevented the launching of the country’s first private television station. In addition to constitutional guarantees of the right to freedom of expression and of the press, the parliament approved a new Press and Publications Law in 2007 that explicitly prohibits “detention as a result of the enunciation of an opinion in speech, writing, or through other means.” Despite this positive development, the new law also drastically increased fines for defamation, allowing to up to 28,000 dinars (US$39,500) for speech that offends religious beliefs, offends the prophets, or slanders the government. Journalists may also be prosecuted under the penal code, which assigns prison terms of up to three years for defaming the king, the royal family, government officials, or the intelligence forces.
In practice, limited criticism of the government and its allies is often tolerated, as is speech in favor of Islamist movements. Nevertheless, a number of journalists faced legal action during the year as a result of their writings. In September, the governor of Amman, Saed al-Wadi al-Manasir, filed a lawsuit in the State Security Court against Faiz al-Ajrashi, editor in chief of Al-Akhbariya, after his newspaper published articles criticizing the governor’s performance. The following month, al-Ajrashi was charged with “agitating sectarian tension and creating strife among people” under Article 150 of the penal code. He faced between six months and three years in prison if convicted, and faced another charge of failing to “respect the truth” and for a “lack of objectivity” under the Press and Publications Law. If convicted on this count, he could be fined up to 500 dinars. On March 13, two staff members at Al-Arab al-Youm, Taher al-Adwan and Sahar Qassam, along with former Ad-Dustour editorOsama Sharif and Ad-Dustour reporter Fayez Louzi, were sentenced to three months in prison for “insulting the judiciary and commenting on its rulings.” On October 19, authorities arrested Al-Arab al-Youm reporter and poet Islam Samhan and charged him with slandering Islam through his use of Koranic verses in a book of love poetry. He was released on October 24 on 1,000 dinars in bail, but still faced up to three years in prison and a 20,000 dinar fine.
In April 2007, Jordan passed an Access to Information Law, the only such law in the Arab world. Nonetheless, press freedom groups criticized the new legislation for having vague national security exemptions and an oversight mechanism that lacked independence. Under the new law, any person has the right to acquire information; if denied he or she may complain to the Information Council. There were no registered complaints in 2008, as no information requests were ever filed. According to many Jordanian journalists, reporters face daily obstacles in their attempts to obtain information. Most senior officials routinely require their subordinates to secure formal permission before sharing information with the media. Despite this, the government ran a series of advertisements in July reminding the public about the Access to Information Law. 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 working.
Intelligence agencies watch journalists closely, and the government gave free rein to intelligence officials, the police, and prosecutors to clamp down on undesirable speech. There were also claims that the government used informants in newsrooms and recruited workers at printing presses to act as de facto censors. As a result of the threat of fines or prosecution, an estimated 94 percent of journalists practiced self-censorship in 2008, according to the Jordan-based Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ). In November, King Abdullah II stated emphatically that “there will be no detention of any journalist for carrying out his/her duty.” However, the government has not changed its policies regarding the media. As a result, editors and journalists claim to have received official warnings to refrain from publishing certain articles and avoid sensitive topics. Security officials have also pressured printers to delay publications until editors agree to remove problematic stories. While the CDFJ’s annual report on press freedom shows an overall decline in journalist complaints from 2007, several complaints detailing threats and harassment of journalists were received in 2008. In January, Imad Hajjaj, a cartoonist for the daily newspaper Al-Ghad, received threats labeling him an infidel over two of his caricatures. In May, Umar Kullab, a journalist and director of the website Maraya News, was harassed and threatened with the loss of his Jordanian citizenship by a member of parliament for publishing an “inflammatory” article.
The government owns substantial shares in Jordan’s two leading daily newspapers, and all publications must obtain licenses from the state. The new Press and Publications Law provides the courts with the authority to block publication of any printed material, as well as the power to withdraw licenses. However, the new law does limit the government’s ability to shut down printing presses. On October 22, the monthly magazine Al-Weibdeh was prohibited from printing for four months for allegedly lacking a proper license. The decision was overturned in December by Prime Minister Nader Dahabi. 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 April, the lower house of parliament approved an amendment to the Culture Law calling for the establishment of a fund to support cultural and artistic events in Jordan. The amendment stipulated that activities would be funded by a 5 percent tax on all advertisements placed in media outlets, as well as a 2 percent fee for licensing or renewing radio and satellite television licenses. The legislation was criticized by journalists and media groups.
In 2003, the government officially gave up its monopoly on domestic television and radio broadcasting with the creation of the Audiovisual Commission (AVC), which licenses and regulates private radio and television outlets. Although the first privately owned television station, ATV, was licensed two years ago, the AVC abruptly halted its planned launch in August 2007, citing incomplete paperwork. As of the end of 2008, ATV had yet to begin broadcasting. The state-run Jordan Television and Radio serves mostly as a mouthpiece for the government. No restrictions are placed on satellite broadcasts, and satellite dishes continue to be a popular way of receiving international media, especially from neighboring Israel and Syria.The government actively promotes access to the internet and claims to place no restrictions on its use. However, online publications became subject to the Press and Publications Law on September 2007. The internet was accessed by 18.2 percent of the population in 2008. In March, the Ministry of the Interior issued new instructions for monitoring internet cafes, including requiring owners to install cameras and record users’ personal data, such as their names, telephone numbers, and time of use. In December, the municipality of Amman blocked access at its offices to 600 websites, among them all Jordanian news sites. The municipality said the move was designed to prevent employees from misusing their time, but news website owners argued that they were targeted for their publication of critical stories concerning the municipality and the mayor of Amman.