AMMAN — Scores of online media publishers, owners and workers demonstrated at the Jordan Press Association (JPA) on Thursday to express their rejection of the draft amendments to the Press and Publications Law approved by the government a day earlier.
Media stakeholders said the amendments were a setback to press freedom in Jordan, but the government said they did not impose any new restrictions and that the decision to shut down registered online media outlets will be solely in the hands of the judiciary.
“The government respects and fully abides by the Constitution, which stipulates that no media institution is to be shut down or its registration abolished without a judicial order. The new draft law does not impose any restrictions or penalties on any online media, contrary to the rumours that have been spread among the media sector,” Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Samih Maaytah said on Thursday.
Maaytah reiterated that requiring the registration and licensing of any online media outlet that reports local or foreign news was consistent with a decision issued last April by the Bureau for the Interpretation of Laws that classified news websites as publications and said they should be subjected to the same regulations as the print media.
Press freedom advocates were less sanguine about the ramifications of the amendments.
In a statement issued on Thursday, the Centre for Defending the Freedom of Journalists criticised the new draft law, saying that it undermined press freedoms and tightened the government’s control over the online media.
“The main goal of approving the new draft law is merely to impose more restrictions on the online media and place it under the government’s dominance, after this new form of media succeeded over the past few years in being independent and outside government censorship,” the centre said in the statement.
“We are worried about the constant attempts by the successive governments to control the online media sector under false justifications,” the centre’s president, Nidal Mansour, told The Jordan Times.
Mansour added that by seeking to amend the law, the government was sending a message to the media that the state has the final say on controlling the licensing of the online media and giving the Press and Publications Department the authority to block those who do not obtain licences.
He added that by dealing with the online media in the same manner as it deals with the print media, the government will prevent hundreds of non-JPA journalists from working in the sector, which he said contradicts the spirit of free expression and a free press.
The JPA council held an emergency meeting on Thursday and decided to take escalatory measures should the government insist on sending the new draft to the Lower House for endorsement next Sunday.
Under the draft legislation, which will be sent to Parliament to be discussed and endorsed during its extraordinary session slated to start next Sunday, online media will be required to register and obtain licences from the Press and Publications Department, although the registration fees will be lowered from JD10,000 to JD1,000.
The bill also holds online media outlets’ publishers responsible for any comments their readers post under published articles.
In addition, news websites will be prohibited from publishing comments not relevant to the published article, and all comments must be archived for a period of no less than six months.