The state of Jordanian media on World Press Freedom Day
The world celebrated World Press Freedom Day on May 3, but the occasion came with bad news for Jordan. Reporters Without Borders ranked the country 146th worldwide and 10th in the Arab world on its annual World Press Freedom Index, published on the holiday.
Despite guarantees of press freedom in the Jordanian constitution, laws and regulations have allowed for the detention and arrest of journalists in recent months, intimidating those who talk about sensitive issues.
One such case was the arrest of Jo24’s editor Basil Al-Okur in 2020, after he covered the Teachers Syndicate protests. Another is the detention of columnist Adnan Al-Rusan last year on charges of cybercrimes.
Observers say that recent legal amendments have contributed to restrictions on freedom of expression, targeting political activists, journalists, and citizens for expressing their political opinions via social media.
Article 225 of the Penal Code was amended to increase the penalty for journalists who publish news about criminal investigations or sealed trials without an official announcement. Article 11 of the Cybercrime Prevention Law criminalizes libel and defamation with a penalty of three months’ imprisonment.
Laws limit journalists’ freedom
Article 15 of the constitution states that “The State shall guarantee freedom of opinion. Every Jordanian shall be free to express his opinion by speech, in writing, or by means of photographic representation and other forms of expression, provided that such does not violate the law. Freedom of the press and publications shall be ensured within the limits of the law. Newspapers shall not be suspended from publication nor shall their permits be revoked except in accordance with the provisions of the law.”
However, the government has curtailed press freedoms using counterterrorism, cybercrime, and media laws, leading to the arrest of journalists and a clampdown on local media.
Translated by Matthew Petti
Laws also criminalize criticism of the King, officials, and government institutions, as well as defamation. The media was ordered to censor coverage of local protests in 2020, and the Prince Hamzah case in April 2021, when officials were arrested on charges of conspiring to undermine the country’s leadership.
Freedom of press is in danger
Ibrahim Qubilat, a member of the Council of Journalists, told AmmanNet in an interview that press freedoms in Jordan are highly restricted, but it is necessary to look at the issue in its historical and regional context.
Qubilat said that Arab governments — including the government of Jordan — consider the media a threat to their authority, and believe that the “Fourth Estate” must know its place and submit to legal controls.
He pointed to a legal regime in Jordan restricting criticism of the government, which makes it difficult for journalists to fulfill their duties impartially and objectively, and puts them at risk.
Qubilat argued that press freedom requires real cooperation between the state and the media, because the media has become more important today than ever before, and it is not possible to build up a state without freedom of expression.
The British outlet Middle East Eye recently reported an increase in restrictions on press freedom in Jordan, via gag orders and legal penalties. The report identified a number of cases where press freedom was restricted, including gag orders around the 2021 sedition case, the Teachers Union case, and the lawsuit by Prime Minister Bisher al-Khasawneh against activist Kameel Al-Zoubi.
Freedom of the press in Jordan and the world at large is changing radically, writes constitutional law profesor Dr. Laith Kamal Nasrawin, who argued in a recent article that technology has completely substituted the traditional model of the press for the rapid spread of news and information.
Nasrawin believes that, while official news agencies were once the main sources of news and information for the masses, private media has become the main destination for consumers seeking information about local and international developments.
Jordan has also seen increased judicial gag orders on a number of prominent criminal cases, which negatively affects press freedom and Jordan’s international reputation. Jordan’s positive constitution amendments on media freedom have not been sufficiently “clarified,” according to Nasrawin.