RSF’s Index Needs clarification but reflects the need for political will for reform.
Although fellow journalists and I, suffer and complain about some restrictions imposed on freedom of the press in Jordan, the recent press freedom index announced by Reporters Without Borders on World Press Freedom Day raises some questions that need clarification.
Despite the announcement that Jordan's position has declined by twenty-six points (meaning that it has become worse than twenty-six countries since last year), delving into some details raises ambiguity about how they reached this large negative result within one year.
In the details published on the Paris-based institution's website, the status of press freedom in Jordan from a political perspective has improved by twenty-six points, as the status in the political context this year reached 125, while in 2022 it reached 151 out of 180. Freedom of the press in the legislative context also improved slightly in the current year, from 154 last year to 152 this year.
These were the only positive detailed results. The index declined in the economic context from 136 last year to 153 this year. Reporters Without Borders justifies the economic context by stating that "there are exorbitant fees for audio-visual licensing." It is true that the fees for radio licenses are high, but the fact is that there has been no change in fees since last year. So, what is the justification for the decline of seventeen countries from last year? If fees did not change in Jordan, is it possible that the licensing situation improve in seventeen countries within one year? Unlikely.
The RSF report says that in the safety subheading, press freedom declined slightly from 99 in 2022 to 101 this year. The report’s authors give reasons for the retraction by saying: “Journalists are subject to close surveillance by the intelligence agencies and are required to join the state-controlled Jordanian Press Association. They are subjected to additional pressure in the form of frequent interrogations, after which they are released on the condition, they do not reveal details of investigations relating to sensitive subjects."
However, the biggest decline witnessed by the press this year, according to "Reporters Without Borders", came in the socio-cultural context, as the index last year was 99, while the current index is 164 of 180 countries. In-depth in this context, Reporters Without Borders states, in completely inaccurate words, that " Sociocultural context that “The Jordanian population is made up of diverse community groups such as Palestinians, Christians, Druze, Circassians, and Armenians, but this pluralism is poorly represented in the media. Journalists find it difficult to tackle some subjects, especially those related to women.”
I do not know the exact percentage of representation of these groups in all media outlets in Jordan, but I can say that pluralism exists in our organization, the Community Media Network (Radio Al-Balad and Amnmanet). There is wide diversity among our employees. There is also a program for Syrian refugees, and for Egyptian, migrant workers. We also produce and broadcast the “Jordan Mosaic” program, which includes Jordanians of Armenians, Circassians, and Druze backgrounds. We also have a number of programs specialized in issues of disability, youth, women, and gender in Jordan. All of these programs are presented by stakeholders from the same category that is being talked about. We are opposed to discrimination based on religion, ethnicity, or gender in our organization.
I also have general knowledge about the profile of most workers in the Jordanian media, and I am sure that there has been no notable change in terms of the profile or background of employees working in all media institutions. I do not think that we have seen in the past year a decline in the representation of Palestinians, Christians, or others. On the contrary, representation in media institutions may be more for a number of these groups than their social representation. Regarding women, there is still a need to improve the presence of women, especially as experts, in addition, there is a need to address inappropriate references in the media. However, it cannot be said that the content of the media in Jordan with regard to women and other groups has declined by this huge amount.
It is not clear if the evaluation in the past year was exaggerated in its positiveness, or if the evaluation in the matter of community representation this year was exaggerated in its negativity, which caused this significant percentage to decline. At least for this sector, it is difficult to accept a decrease in the plurality of community representation in the past year by 65 degrees, i.e., by 40% from last year.!!
In any case, and despite the difficulty to defend some of these numbers, global indicators are an important reference, and they constitute a warning bell that decision-makers in Jordan must pay serious attention to. There may be a miscalculation here or there, but there is no doubt that we need an in-depth holistic and inclusive workshop to deal with the issue of the freedom of the press.
Work by the government including the media commission, must be carried out with practitioners with the goal of developing a serious strategic road map to address the causes of Jordan's poor ranking in international indicators.
We, the practitioners of independent media need to be honest with the government and others that there is direct and indirect pressure exerted on journalists and media institutions, which results in a high rate of self-censorship.
However, if the Jordanian authorities are serious about the political modernization process, and if there is political will, then it is necessary that the press freedom issue be dealt with in depth.
If decision-makers expect the success of the new party experiment without unleashing freedom of the press, then they are mistaken. Freedom of the press is the oxygen of multi-party democracy.
In conclusion, Jordan needs to take a 180-degree change of course as soon as possible, so that the next index on May 3, 2024, reflects a tangible improvement in the Jordan index in the field of press freedom.