IPI calls for repeal of news website licensing in Jordan
Report urges overhaul of Press and Publications Law, changes to anti-terror amendments
VIENNA, May 28, 2014 - A year after dozens of Jordan’s Internet news sites were blocked by the government for failing to obtain a licence, a report published today by the International Press Institute (IPI) calls on the authorities to rescind the law and take steps to reform other legislation that threatens press freedom.
Jordanian officials on June 1, 2013 blocked more than 200 websites for violating a law requiring them to be licensed as a news site and to have an editor affiliated with the national journalists’ syndicate.
The IPI report - “Press freedom in Jordan: Amending the licensing law for news websites” - says the blocking action not only caused disruptions and financial hardship for the rapidly growing Internet news market, but the law itself sets a dangerous precedent for other Middle East governments to impose similar obligations on the news media. It also has had a chilling effect on the media by encouraging self-censorship.
“IPI believes Jordan’s registration requirement unjustly imposes direct government control over Internet news providers, giving political authorities the power to decide who can operate, who is in charge of editorial direction, and gives them the authority to revoke the licence,” IPI Executive Director Alison Bethel McKenzie said. “Jordan’s regulation represents unfair interference in the global exchange of ideas and information and goes against the government’s own assurances that they support independent media and uncensored access to information.”
Last year’s website blockage came days after IPI held its 2013 World Congress in Amman, where Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour pledged in a speech to pursue reforms that “further guarantee rights and freedoms, including media freedom.”
The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission blocked access to the sites within Jordan, saying they “did not comply with a recently introduced change to the state’s Press and Publications Law” that stipulated the licensing of all such websites.
Since then, IPI has urged Jordan’s parliament and monarch, King Abdullah II, to reconsider the obligation.
Licensing represents a drain on resources and unprecedented interference in the independence of news operations, website publishers and editors told IPI during a fact-finding trip to Amman from May 9 to 13, 2014. They expressed concern that the law extends Jordanian authority over the global Internet space, giving the authorities the power to revoke licences, and setting a grave precedent for other nations looking to control independent media on the Internet.
Russian President Vladimir Putin signed a similar law earlier this month.
Amman defended the law as necessary to improve media professionalism and to provide a mechanism to monitor home-based media to protect against consumer blackmail, hate speech or extremism. A Jordanian court upheld the law and the blocking of the sites in a lawsuit brought by five online media companies.
In an interview with IPI in Amman, Minister of State for Media Affairs Mohammed H. Al-Momani said there had been no interference with those who complied with the law. “There is nothing to deprive them of freedom of the press,” the minister said on May 12, adding that any action taken against those in non-compliance must first be approved by the courts.
In addition to the licensing requirement, IPI is also concerned about recently approved counter-terrorism amendments aimed at digital media and existing measures that make it a criminal offence to harm relations with a foreign government, an overtly vague law that has been applied in recent months against the managers of the Jafra News website.
Amidst these concerns, Jordanian officials have left the door open to reconsider laws that IPI and other media advocates contend pose a threat to press freedom and undermine the independence of the media.
The IPI report recommends:
- That parliamentary leaders establish a special committee to review all media laws to ensure that they comply with Chapter II, Article 15 of the Constitution, which guarantees freedom of the press and the right of government non-interference in the media.
- That lawmakers repeal provisions of the recently amended anti-terror statues that allow journalists to be tried through State Security Courts, despite promises to end such practices.
The report also urges publishers and editors of online news sites to establish self-regulatory mechanisms and an independent ombudsman to critique news coverage, and for all media to work together to counter government restrictions on press freedom and access to information.
“Jordan’s leaders have committed to strengthening democracy and independent media, and this is a positive signal,” Bethel McKenzie said in releasing the report. “They could demonstrate this commitment immediately by removing obstacles to emerging media and ensuring a competitive and independent news environment in the country.”
For more information, contact:
Timothy Spence at +43 (1) 512 90 11 or by e-mail tspence[@]freemedia.at.