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Jordan 'regional example' of press freedom despite challenges

By Ana V. Ibáñez Prieto - May 05,2018 - Last updated at May 05,2018

John Yearwood

AMMAN — “Journalists across the entire Arab region are looking up to Jordan as an example of press freedom. Yet, several challenges are still to overcome,” executive board chairman of the International Press Institute (IPI) John Yearwood told The Jordan Times during his visit to the Kingdom this weekend. 

In September 2017, the press freedom network expressed concern over the Jordanian authorities' move to muzzle Amman-based Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) and “the threat that the action represents to civil society organisations in the country”.

Daoud Kuttab, member of IPI’s Executive Board, questioned the motive behind the move, saying that “while on the surface, the accusations against CDFJ appear to be technical in nature, there is a suspicion that the motivation and the public nature of the action seem to be political”.

Earlier in the year, IPI director of press freedom programmes, Scott Griffen, criticised the measures taken against Al Jazeera by several countries in the region including Jordan, noting that “the closure of Al Jazeera in Saudi Arabia and Jordan and the blocking of its websites by other countries has the unfortunate consequence of depriving citizens of different viewpoints and of everyone’s right to information”. 

Asked about the most urgent challenges to be addressed in the Kingdom, Yearwood pointed to the need for a revision of the Cyber Crimes Law, stressing that “while some Jordanian journalists can publish a story on print media with nothing happening to them, professionals using electronic news might face 15 days of detention for the publication of the same material”. 

Yearwood also highlighted the concentration of media present in the Kingdom, noting “when private media start looking like public media, it is because the government is getting too aggressively into the ownership of the different outlets, and the government’s finger shall be removed from the scale”. 

However, the journalist conceded that “Jordan still wants to get it right”, elaborating on the result of the dialogues held by IPI with several government officials.

“It is still a work in progress but we are optimistic,” Yearwood said, noting that “IPI’s goal now is to keep an eye on what happens on the ground, and we are always open to dialogue in order to ensure that the laws protect everyone and that governments honour them”. 

The journalist noted: “Jordan has enjoyed press freedom for a very long time and the Arab Spring might have even led a little bit more sunshine into it," noting, however, that "in many other cases, its effect went against the media. Countries like Egypt are doing a terrible job in adhering to their constitution’s provisions and the  rights of journalists”.  

Citing the case of Al Jazeera’s Mahmoud Hussein imprisonment in Egypt, Yearwood claimed: “Egypt is still under terrible oppression from the media and, if this country is to be considered one that respects the freedom of its citizens, they shall honour their constitutional calls for the freedom of the press”.  

“When it comes to cyber security laws, we have heard governments stating that they are trying to protect their citizens against terrorism, but instead, what they are doing is using an opportunity to stifle dissent from the public and the press,” he added, stressing “this is a very critical area in which we would like to see the governments exert more efforts”.

Yearwood, nonetheless, showed optimism about the future of global media, saying “it is still a great time to be a journalist, as the online space is bringing more and more organisations on board.”

“People have never been hungrier for real news, and, at the same time, we have never seen such fantastic journalism happening in the industry,” the journalist concluded, expressing hopes for the state of press freedom "to be improved overtime despite the challenges”. 

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