Practical steps to improve the environment for press freedom in Jordan
In the context of the attempts to reform the political systems in Jordan based on the outcome of the royal commission, there is a strong need for a serious reform when it comes to press freedoms.
The Jordanian constitution guarantees press freedom. And Jordan, the signatory of the Universal Declaration of Human rights and a series of regional and international treaties is committed to working on creating an environment conducive to the freedom of the press in contrast to the current atmosphere which contradicts these constitutional and international commitments.
Article 19 of the Universal Declaration states that “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”
In order to accomplish this goal, the country’s top priority must be to distance the security institution from the media world.
There is no doubt that in a volatile region security and stability are important but in the digital age, security is not brought about by blocking websites and detaining journalists while insisting on a single governmental narrative instead of a pluralistic inclusive approach.
As part of such distancing of the security apparatus, Jordan needs to take a new look at the concept of direct and indirect ownership of media. This means that the country must seriously think of a gradual divestment from the daily newspaper (Al-Rai and Addustour) as well as from audio-visual platforms. Jordan will not achieve the coveted democratic reform so long as the army owns advertising revenue broadcasting radio stations. This includes the most listened to a radio station (Hala FM), and the police owning a nationwide station (AMMEN FM).
Also, in the field of broadcasting the country owns and runs two major tv stations paid for by the taxpayer and taken as an addition to the electric bill in every home. These public service stations should be run by the people possibly with the help of the parliament which would give genuine meaning to the term public service.
In terms of regulating the media, there must be an inclusive representative board running the media commission and not a single official appointed by the government.
Another monopoly, the journalist’s syndicate must be abandoned. The Jordan Press Association is largely a closed shop similar to the soviet-style unions. It is inconceivable that most journalists are not members of this union yet the country only recognizes members of this single union as journalists while all others are not allowed to create a representative body.
The freedom to work as a journalist must also be protected from the intervention of bodies that try and restrict their work. A law must be passed outlawing the detention of journalists because of what they have published.
An observer of the media scene in Jordan surely can feel the chaotic way media is dealt with. At times policies appear to be encouraging the free press then policies and action blow this effort up.
There is an opportunity for a positive administrative revolution in Jordan for the way it deals with the media so that it can be a source of pluralistic and credible news reflecting a wide range of opinions within the constitutional guarantees of the free press. The question that needs to be asked is whether there is a political will to carry out such reform or not?
· The author is director-general of Community Media Network which runs Radio al Balad and AmmanNet.net website