AMMAN — The draft amendments to the Press and Publications Law are not sacred and are subject to change, but it is up to lawmakers to change or approve them, the government said on Tuesday.
Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications and Government Spokesperson Samih Maaytah said the government was open for dialogue with the concerned parties to reach an acceptable formula for the law to safeguard press freedoms.
He stressed that the draft amendments were drawn up by the government to ensure a well organised professional media and protect the profession from unethical practices, amidst the increasing number of online media outlets.
Maaytah underlined that the government did not target news websites through the amendments, reiterating that the law is aimed at streamlining the “rapidly growing sector” and ensuring that only professional and ethical websites survive.
“The proposed draft is now debated under the Dome, where lawmakers have the constitutional jurisdiction to reject, amend or approve it,” he told reporters.
“We are ready to take part in a dialogue between all concerned parties, the Jordan Press Association (JPA), representatives from the online media sector and MPs to reach an acceptable formula that does not undermine press freedoms.”
He dismissed allegations that the new draft law sis designed to restrict the freedom of news websites or punish them. outlets.
Requiring the registration and licensing of any online media outlet that reports local or foreign news is consistent with a decision issued last April by the Higher Judicial Council’s Law Interpretation Bureau, classifying news websites as publications that should be subject to the same regulations as print media, Maaytah said.
“Whenever there is a law in place, it aims to put things in perspective, so that the state does not lose its ability to protect its institutions, citizens, economy and the investor community from abuse, defamation and character assassination.”
“We understand that some practitioners are defending their interests, but we must all talk in one language that strongly opposes any violation of the privacy of others or their rights,” the minister said.
Meanwhile, the JPA issued a statement Tuesday, reiterating a call on the government to withdraw the controversial draft law from Parliament for more consultation with the association to reach common grounds.
During a JPA council meeting on Tuesday, the members agreed on the need to streamline the online media sector to boost its professionalism.
“We had several meeting with officials from the previous government with regards to the proposed amendments and we requested abolishing the huge fines suggested by the amendments and finding a transparent and feasible mechanism for the licensing and registration process of news websites,” the statement said.
In a related development, the Centre for Defending the Freedom of Journalists and online media stakeholders are organising a protest on Wednesday in front of Parliament to express their rejection of the new amendments.
Under the draft legislation, 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.
Also Tuesday, a local group dubbed “7oryanet” issued a statement saying it initiated a campaign “calling on Jordan’s leading online news portals and websites to engage in a one-day blackout” on Wednesday, in protest against the proposed amendments to the Press and Publications Law.
Participating online portals and websites “will be going dark for the day by replacing their home pages with black screen,”, the statement said.
“7oryanet”, which translates to “You are free, Internet” was launched specifically to protest against any government attempts to censor the Internet, the statement said.