93% of Jordanian journalists practice self-censorship, report finds

96.6% believe the biggest threat are laws enabling the imprisonment of media professionals

camera recording press conference
(File photo: Jordan News)
AMMAN — The Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) issued a report on Monday on the state of media freedoms in the Arab world in 2021. Titled “Threatened”, the report covered five Arab countries: Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Tunisia, and Morocco.اضافة اعلان

The investigative study conducted by the center found that, in Jordan, government interventions top the challenges facing journalists, at a rate of up to 90 percent; 96.6 percent of the respondents said the government is not keen on preserving the independence of the media. Another 96.6 percent of Jordanian journalists believe that the biggest threat are laws enabling the imprisonment of media professionals. Thus, self-censorship is higher in Jordan than in any other country surveyed, with a percentage of 93.3 percent of the sample.

The report aims at exposing the state of the media in the five countries covered, the condition of journalists, the political, economic, and legal environments in which they work, and the impact of these environments on media freedoms.

The report concluded that media freedoms in the Arab region, in general, and in the five countries, in particular, are under siege, subject to restrictions in some countries and seriously threatened in others.

It emphasized the relatively similar characteristics of and challenges in Arab countries, pointing to what it described as extensive control of the executive authority over the judicial and legislative branches.

The report pointed to the most recent classification of the five countries in the Media Freedom Index issued by Freedom House: Jordan and Palestine as “not free”, while Tunisia, Lebanon, and Morocco as “partly free”.

The report noted that monarchies in both Jordan and Morocco enjoy wide powers, that the executive authorities in both are the strongest, and that the judiciary in the five countries is occasionally subjected to soft interventions; it also noted the weak parliamentary oversight over government action.

It pointed to the similar economic situation and legislative environment in the five countries, highlighting the freedom-depriving penalties in cases of freedom of expression, whether on charges of defamation, disturbing the public peace, or other broad charges, among others.

The report explained that while some laws regulating the work of the media in the five countries do not include freedom-depriving penalties, the multiplicity of legal references in these countries makes it possible to sentence journalists to prison terms. In some of these countries prosecutors do not use publication laws to prosecute journalists, but resort to the Penal Code or anti-terrorism laws instead.

The report said that even though there are freedom of information laws in Jordan, Morocco, Tunisia, and Lebanon, their application varies from one country to another. In Jordan and Tunisia the law is applied selectively.

The report pointed to cases of mobile phone tapping, beatings, denial of the right to cover an issue, threats, and self-censorship as common violations in all five countries.

It said that in these countries, governments are doing everything they can to control digital media by enacting restrictive legislation and harassing bloggers and media professionals. Moreover, governments in these five countries deal with the media as a security issue.

The report referred to the recommendations issued by the center in its previous Arab reports (2012–2018), noting with frustration that nothing has changed since the first one was published.

It called on the executive and legislative authorities in the five countries to build stronger ties with the media by selecting professional media spokespersons who are able to communicate effectively with journalists, provide them with information that helps them perform their tasks, and facilitate their work.

The report called on civil society organizations to form a broad coalition that includes legal experts, media professionals, and parliament members to develop alternative legal texts for crimes related to freedom of expression.

It recommended that civil society organizations start a media campaign to explain and publicize the issue of lack of accountability of governments that punish journalists, to develop clear legislation targeting those who attack journalists or media personnel while performing their jobs, and to consolidate the principle of voluntary union membership, among other things.

The report called on journalists and lawyers unions in the five countries to establish specialized centers to provide legal assistance to media professionals, boost their professional competence, and improve the efficiency of lawyers working in those centers.

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