Jordan/ 5.3 Sector specific legislation  

5.3.7 Mass media

The law for TV and radio mainly outlines the framework in which organisations in the sector operate. Organisations are responsible for setting up TV and Radio stations, purchasing all necessary equipment needed to do so, transmitting different stations, making any relevant agreements (it does not specify what, or with whom these agreements may be). And finally, “any other business related to the responsibilities of the organisation”[1].

The main points outlined in the laws that govern the sector are summarised as follows.

  • Press will exercise its work freely and present information on various subjects within the limits of the law, and it references objectivity, invasion of privacy and breeching human rights.
  • Press freedom is further defined as acquiring information that is of interest to the nation, as well as a form of expression of opinion, where official bodies are responsible for providing the information necessary to facilitate journalists’ work. All the while, journalists have the right to secrecy of their sources unless these sources are requested for presentation in a court of law. 
  • Licences are granted to political parties and ministers’ cabinet, as well as any individual who is a Jordanian citizen and fulfils the necessary requirements legally and financially.  Content that cannot be published includes most notably the following ideas; news that involves the king and the royal family (negatively), news about the special forces that has not been officially published through their press office, tainting religion(s) that are recognised by the state, and publishing information that might lead to publicising unethical behaviour, information that may threaten national unity, classified government information, or any information that may disrupt international relations.[2]

The laws do not clearly articulate what may be considered a ‘threat to national unity’ or what information may be regarded as negative in regard to the royal family, which leaves these open for interpretation by the individual. The citizen media website which has been blocked by the Jordanian Publication and Press Department has been actively working on reporting on the laws that govern freedom of speech, and are producing infographs as a tool for awareness on the matter.[3]

There are thirty-five newspapers (online, print, weekly and daily) in Jordan.[4] The government controls shares in the most widely distributed papers, in Al-Rai it holds 53%, and 35% in Al-Dustur. Jordan Television is the state run station with two channels, one local and one satellite station. Other channels include the disputed ATV (which is yet to launch after a ban on airing in 2007 - more details below), Normina TV, and most recently Roya TV. Up until 2007, there were 15 licensed to FM stations, but only one has the right to transmit news and political programs. Blogs are not recognised or defined in the Law for Press and Media in Jordan, which implies that the government until 2012 had not (yet) recognised this media as a form of communication, yet a large number of blogs and websites have been working that cover a broad range of topics including social and political topics. Up until 2012, there was little censorship of these blogs, and following the 2011 worldwide wave of protests, Jordan did not censor online media content in a show of support for freedom of speech. None-the-less, in 2012 the government issued a law for the monitoring of online media platforms, and while there was a strong wave of protest to stop the new censorship law, the government closed down several websites under the pretence of their publishing content that was against the law.

“The new law orders websites to acquire an operating licence from the Print and Publications Department (PPD) that requires the site to have a managing editor registered in the Press Syndicate for at least four years, making clear that the policy aims to discredit writers or bloggers outside of the existing press establishment in Jordan. The law also holds editors responsible for the content of comments on their website’s articles. Few news websites gave in to the new regulation and sought licences from the PPD in order to reinstate their websites. Many more refused to pursue licences on principle and promoted censorship circumvention instead, using their censored websites as an opportunity to raise more awareness and garner more public support against the law.” [5]

While the constitution declares freedom of speech as mentioned in article 15; the reality of this freedom within the Media is a different one. According to the report published by both the UNESCO and IFES in 2007 the following outlines the state of media in Jordan.

“In Jordan, the press generally is under the control of the government and supports its interests. That law gives the cabinet the power to reject media licences. In Jordan, it is illegal for non-Jordanians to even invest in the press. The government has no power to close any newspaper or seize its assets without court permission. The application of these laws has been politically motivated, arbitrary and an abuse of power”.

A good example of the abuse of this power is the case of ATV which was stopped from launching one day prior to the launch date, “the decision of the so-called Audio-visual Commission to halt the launching of Jordan's first independent TV station (Al Ghad TV) was won in a landslide victory, especially as the decision was signed by none other than Faisal Shboul, the acting head of the Audio-visual Commission and the head of Jordan TV, the main competitor to ATV.” [6] Clarity with regards to the reasons behind such drastic actions was not published.

After the abolishment of the Ministry of Information, the media was then monitored by the Higher Council for Media. Censorship of media is under the watch of security agencies, who are also responsible for the monitoring of advertising content. Due to the lack of a centralised body for the control of media, different authorities become involved and thus exercise power and censorship.

“...While journalists rarely suffer physical abuse, many fear official humiliation and receive threats from the security agencies. Referring journalists to the investigative courts is another widely used method to terrorise them... From 1993 to 2004 there were 300 cases against journalists recorded. The government of Jordan initiated half of these cases, although it was unsuccessful in 90 percent of them. Indeed, the civil courts have not sent one journalist to prison... These statistics are a strong indicator that the government of Jordan is abusing its powers and arbitrarily using media laws for its own political purposes, including censorship. They also suggest that the courts are trying to uphold the rule of law.” [7]

On another note that points towards journalistic freedom of movement, “the current law allows the government to prosecute journalists at the military-run state security court. It does not guarantee the right to obtain information and increases chances of political prosecution for publishing controversial material,” said Mansour of the Centre for Defending Journalists. The current law gives authorities the right to detain journalists or fine them between US $20,000 to $27,000 for press violations, including charges of "incitement". [8]

While on a much smaller scale is the behaviour of police and security forces towards cameras, individuals (amateur photographers) taking photographs around the city have been reportedly stopped under the pretence that ‘it is against the law’. This sort of behaviour is common in Jordan and questions the media’s rights, and is a good example of the general attitude of government towards journalists.

[6] BatirWardam, Jordanwatch Friday, August 24, 2007.

[7]Comparative Report on the State of the Media in Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon and Morocco. Dr. SassinAssaf, Professor Keith Henderson (English Editor), IFES, may 2007, UNESCO, Arab Centre for the Development of Rule of Law and Integrity


Chapter published: 04-05-2016