On the morning of April 13, 2015, the Jordanian newspaper Al Rai (the Arabic word for “The Opinion”), on its own accord, began a boycott on printing government news. The next day the newspaper published headlines and news which “shocked” their readers, according to the description of some activists on communication networks.
These headlines were directed “against” the government, or at the very least contained severe criticism of the performance of the government.
This change in the editorial policy of the newspaper, which has long been described as “pro-government,” incited a great deal of excitement and attracted the attention of observers and other media outlets.
Among what has been written about this “transformation:”
- The headlines of Al Rai on Thursday attacked the government for the third day in a row, and with that in mind, the “angry” headlines published by the newspaper left citizens wondering. -allofjo.net April 16
- Al Rai retaliated in the face of the government. -falaqnews.com April 14
- Al Rai unleashed fire upon the government. -shaabnews.com April 15
- The government newspaper Al Rai attacked the government and obscured its news. -albawaba.com April 15
- The newspaper Al Rai suspended its printing of government news and criticized its institutions. -Roya TV April 17
The newspaper has continued this new editorial policy, along with the continued obstruction of government news.
This shift in the editorial policy of the once “pro-government” newspaper came in the wake of what has become known as the “crisis of the printed press” and the government’s response to the demands of employees for these newspapers, especially those working for Al Rai.
Al Rai journalists called for a change on the board of directors, three members in particular, whom they believed were being pushed in the direction of restructuring the newspaper and laying off a significant number of its employees, as is currently happening at the newspaper Al Dostor (“The Constitution”). Each member of the board of directors refused to discuss alternatives to removing the paper from its stifling financial crisis.
The newspaper refused the decisions that the government made regarding it on April 20 and confirmed in a statement that the government decisions concerning the printed press did not mention positive impacts on, or financial support for, Al Rai.
The new editorial policy raised some controversy between those who welcomed it and those who remain skeptical. Those who welcomed it said that Al Rai has been turned into a newspaper of the “nation and the state,” and that if it continues in this way the government will fall: “If Al Rai stands in opposition for just two weeks the government will fall.” Others considered the transformation just a temporary, passing phase, or “blackmail” that will end as soon as the government caves to the Al Rai journalists’ demands.
Responding to skeptics about the new editorial direction, Khaled Qudah, editorial secretary for Al Rai, said in an interview on Roya TV, “The policy of Al Rai is to return to the policy of the state and we are not a government newspaper. We speak on behalf of the state and Jordanian citizens and this requires us to sometimes agree with the government on some issues and to disagree with them on some issues.”
Qudah added, “Al Rai will continue to honor this corrective movement and it is the third of its kind. There were corrective movements in 2011 and 2013 and this corrective movement in 2015 will be the third for the path of Al Rai.”
However, Ghaith Dailah, managing editor of Al Rai, said to Roya TV, “what we want to say is that we will be unveiling in the coming week a new stage in dealing professionally with the news of the homeland, and we believe that this will improve sales, distribution and advertising.”
Dailah added, “Even if the crisis is resolved with the changing of the board of directors, we will remain devoted to our editorial policy as we have in the past.”
Thus is the shift in the editorial policy of the newspaper Al Rai, or the “corrective movement” as described by Qudah. Aside from whether it is a permanent policy, mere blackmail, or an overhyped moment that will soon expire, it notes and raises several questions and observations, including:
First, what happens if a newspaper which now presents itself as a spokesperson for the “state and the people,” becomes closer to an “opposition” newspaper? There is a difference between being a spokesperson for the state and people, performing a “public service,” and being an “opposition,” circulating one point of view.
Second, what about the case of a newspaper failing to perform its mission in terms of the public’s right to know? There is a big difference between ceasing to transmit the news in a manner which celebrates the achievements of the government and ceasing the distribution of government news in its entirety, including news that is important and necessary for the citizen.
For example, not only did the Rai boycott the pro-government news that it had previously transmitted, it also boycotted the news of interest to the citizens such as government decisions, government responses to the intervention of representatives, and government statements and activities--even those related to public service.
Third, if Al Rai concealed in its reports and news all points of view of government officials, and did not leave any room for their opinions or clarifications, is it not the same newspaper which in the past was considered to lack objectivity?
It also dealt with selectivity in coverage, focussing only on the negative aspects of the government performance. Note for example, the distinction between the coverage of Al Rai on the results of the survey released by the Center for Strategic Studies on April 5 and the coverage by other newspapers, such as the private newspaper Al Ghad, on the same results.
Fourth, Al Rai limited its “attack” on the government only to the council of ministers. Note the mark that all of this made on the transformation and what this attack looks like to some, such as the House of Representatives, who would like to neutralize other parties in the state and who have discovered Al Rai’s usefulness in this battle.
Al Rai's reports used the words of the House of Representatives, calling the government’s performance “impotent,” and turned a blind eye on the performance of the council itself. Is this the correct role of a “nation and state” newspaper, seeking to perform the role of public service while overlooking the shortcomings in the performance of all state agencies?
By and large, it remains to be seen whether Al Rai can play the role of “opposition” or even “public servant” when the local media is intimidated and made insignificant in the shadow of the laws and regulations enforced upon it by the decline of media freedoms. Is Al Rai able to criticize foreign policy, for example, or able to extend criticism to security policies or criticism of the military?
In any case, do Jordanian citizens need an “opposition” newspaper or do they need media and newspapers to perform true public service? Public service meaning, operating under the slogan of “the right of the citizen to know,” and producing “media content that discusses the fundamental issues of society, without sliding into hysteria, and that is committed to professional guidelines and the use of varied and balanced sources of information.”
*The Arabic of this article appeared on May 11, 2015
Translated by Julia Norris