Newsletter No 5 25 October 2005
 
Press Freedom:
Press Freedom Situation in Jordan Improves, but Not Enough

When King Abdullah II came to power in February 1999, he expressed his will to improve the press freedom standards in Jordan. Some steps have been taken, however, there is still a lot of room for improvement.

APN spoke to Nedal Mansour, president of the Jordanian Center for Defending Journalists (CDFJ), a non-governmental press freedom organization founded the same year King Abdullah accessed the throne.

APN: Jordan is said to be one of the most stable countries in the region. It has also instituted some democratic reforms. What role do the media play in this process?
Mansour: King Abdullah wants Jordan to be a model in the region, and so do the media. But things are changing very slowly. For instance, it was decided over ten years ago that a Free Media Zone would be established in our country, but until today nothing has happened. Why? What are we afraid of?

APN: Since the beginning of his reign, King Abdullah has spoken in favor of strengthening press freedom and modernizing the media. Has Jordan witnessed a real change with regards to press freedom?
Mansour: Yes, the situation has changed, but not enough. The King showed his will of strengthening press freedom when he said that the limits for it were as high as the sky. However, the actual conditions for a free press are not good in Jordan: we have a conservative society and a lot of restrictive media laws. It feels as if we are moving, and at the same time we are not. I think that we do not only have to change the existing laws, but also the media environment, and the prevailing mentalities. For newspapers, the situation has improved slightly in the last years. A concrete sign of this was the launch of the truly independent newspaper Al Ghad in 2004.

APN: The Ministry of Information was abolished in 2001, and the media laws have been changed or amended several times in the last years. How does this affect the profession and the freedom of the press?
Mansour: Regarding the abolition of the Ministry of Information, other bodies were created to replace it, for example the Higher Media Council and the Jordan Information Center. This means that in reality nothing has changed. In fact, we are fighting to get a truly independent body for the media, and this recommendation has also been included in the National Agenda, which is a reform initiative launched by King Abdullah. However, those in power do not accept changes easily. As I said earlier, the mentalities have to change. When it comes to the media laws, the existing laws have been changed four times in the last fifteen years. Nonetheless, we are in need of new and definitive ones. There is a draft media law that is waiting to be approved since 2004. We do not know if it will be a positive one until the parliament approves the final text.

APN:
The government has ownership in the media either directly, through the Jordan Press Foundation, or then indirectly through pro-governmental private companies. What are the effects of this?
Mansour: In my opinion, the effects are not important. Even if the government would not have shares in media, there is always the security services. It is common that journalists receive phone calls telling them what they can publish or not. Furthermore, many journalists work with the government and many editors practice self-censorship to avoid problems.

APN: How have regional and international conflicts - such as the attacks on the World Trade Center, the second Intifada and the war in Iraq - affected the media and press freedom situation in Jordan?
Mansour: These conflicts have been used to tell us that we cannot have total freedom of speech for the moment and that we have to wait until the situation becomes stable. However in 2000, the King said that we could not stop the democracy process, since it is the only way to solve those conflicts. Still, people who are against all reforms are strong, and are fighting the National Agenda. But as the King says, we are going to win this battle.

APN: Which are the main activities of the Jordanian Center for Defending Journalists?
Mansour: We have been developing programs to protect journalists since the launch six years ago. When we started, many journalists were facing trials without having any knowledge of the surrounding laws and procedures. We have trained lawyers to defend them. Besides that, we work to improve and upgrade the professional skills of journalists. We have an Internet club which aims to provide journalists with means and abilities to use the web as a work tool. And we undertake training programs to improve the writing skills of journalists. We also run programs to support democracy and we hold an annual conference on the state of media in Jordan.

To visit the website of the Jordanian Center for Defending Journalists, go to: www.cdfj.org