• Monitoring 87 violations of press freedoms including 45 aggressions during last year.
• The violations reached their peak in June and July.
• Rise of the ceiling of media freedoms amid government attempts to contain.
According to a report issued 26 February 2012- by Jordanian Media Monitor at Al-Quds Center for Political Studies, the number of press freedoms violations in the kingdom reached last year 2011 about 87 which included all forms of violations.
The report stated that last year witnessed unprecedented forms of violations like physical aggressions against journalists and witnessed also the entrance of new parties to press freedoms violators which made the whole affair not restricted only to the violations practiced by official parties.
It made a link between the increase of violations and their intensity and the outbreak of public protest moves demanding political and economic reforms in the kingdom. There was an increase and concentration of media coverage of those moves as well as a rise in the ceiling of press freedoms and the collapse of many red lines which were imposed by many ways on media or imposed by those media on themselves through soft containment or self-censorship. The report stressed that there is a strong relation between the increase of violations and the course of the public reform move.
The monitoring operations carried out by the team of Jordanian Media Monitor showed that the violations included all their forms under all classifications. The aggressions and threats which included physical, psychological, assassination of personality, as well as beating, threat of killing, frightening, arson, damage of private property and press head offices, smashing of cameras, confiscating of films, kidnapping, warning, public libel on air, incitement campaigns…etc. constituted the majority of the violations committed as their number reached 45 which is unprecedented in the history of media in Jordan. The violations recorded over the past few decades were individual aggressions against journalists and were not committed at rapid sequence and they did not take the form of a phenomenon.
The violations of “government and security forces interventions and pressures” came in the second place as their number reached 13 followed by “cases of prohibition of publication and circulation “ which recorded 10 cases. These two forms of violations were the most popular ones over the last decades at the Jordanian media arena due to the non-independency of Jordanian media and its subjection to the domination of the government and security apparatuses on the one hand, and the subjection of journalists at the various media to censorship imposed by chief editors in media institutions as well as self–censorship practiced by the journalist.
The number of cases of arbitrary discharge from office and administrative pressures reached 7. The cases of arbitrary discharge from office are very rare among Jordanian media circles but such cases were recorded in the last two months of the last year as the case with the editor–in-chief of Ar-Rai newspaper due to government pressures and three high officials of the independent daily Al-Arab Al-Yoam due to administrative pressures.
The number of societal interventions and pressures (non-professional interventions) reached 6 cases only and they were practiced by tribal, party and associations sides as well as other parties. Four cases were recorded with respect to summons and trials. Two cases pertaining to legislative restrictions were registered while two other cases also were recorded with regard to concealment of information. One case only related to “Censorship on Publications and Mass Media" was monitored.
It should be referred to here that preparing the report was based on a methodology through which 9 criteria for the violations were classified and under each criterion many forms of violations of press freedom were categorized. These criteria are: detentions, summons, trials, aggressions, threats, prohibition of publication and circulation, government and security apparatuses interventions and pressures, societal interventions and pressures, arbitrary discharge from office, administrative pressures, censorship of newspapers and mass media, concealment of information and legislative restrictions. It should be noted here that the total number of violations stated in this report is not necessarily to be final due to the possibility of the existence of violations which were not reported.
Types and Numbers of Violations committed on the Freedom of Press and Media
Analysis of Statistical Information:
The report monitored one violation of press and media freedom during the first month of 2011 which is related to one of Wiki-leaks cables which was translated by Amman net web site. The security apparatuses (Intelligence Department) asked for the removal of the news from site. The news was related to His Royal Highness Crown Prince Hussein Bin Abdullah. The explanation that only one violation of press freedoms was recorded during the first month of last year is that public moves demanding political reforms have not started yet. In this context, monitoring operations recorded 4 cases of violation of press freedoms in February.
March is the month in which violations of press freedoms have started at a large and systematic scale in the kingdom in unprecedented form due to the escalation of public protest moves. This month witnessed the occurrence of the biggest number of violations as well as the occurrence of physical aggressions and the entrance of new players to the arena of aggressors on press freedoms (Gendarmerie forces – Public Security Forces-Thugs).
According to the statistical analysis of the monitor, that month recorded 21 violations of press freedoms and media. This can be explained that March was the month in which the organizing forces of the public protest moves decided to escalate their activity by moving to sit-in at Jamal Abdulnaser Square (Square of the Ministry of Interior) where the first case of collective aggression against journalists by policemen, Gendarmerie forces and other sides described as "Thugs" took place.
The number of violations in April dropped and the month witnessed the occurrence of 7 violations only. The intensity of the violations dropped again in May and their number reached 4, the most serious of which was the collective aggression against journalists during the "March of Return" in the town of Al-Karamah which was organized by political powers on the anniversary of the occupation of Palestine. Six violations were recorded in June, the most serious of which was the assault on the office of French Press Agency, the destruction of its equipment, the attempt to beat one of the employees at the office and threats of killing directed to the manager of the office Randah Habeeb following the agency’s broadcast of news related to hurling stones on His Majesty the King’s parade during his visit to Tafeelah in the south of Jordan.
Total violations per months
It could be said that the intensity of violations of media freedoms was fluctuating between escalation and dropping and that was linked with two main factors, namely: Recession of the intensity of the public reform move after it received a hard blow at the square of the Ministry of Interior and the dispersal and splintering of its leadership accompanied by unprecedented government media campaign aimed at offending the move and inciting the components of the society against it. This campaign was described by some writers and media people as “McCarthean“ and an attempt to terrorize the forces of the move along with media and press which led to the recession of the public move as well as media coverage accompanying it. Secondly, the large counter campaign launched by mass media, journalists, writers, prominent figures and local, Arab and international civic society organizations in response to those violators which obliged the government and security apparatuses to retreat and attempt to curb "Thugs" and prevent them from committing aggressions against demonstrators and media men accompanying the demonstrations and sits-in. However, other forms – unrude and unannounced - continued like summons to security departments and lodging complaints before courts against some journalists.
The violations rose again in July to reach 15 cases, the gravest of which was the collective assault and premeditated beating against journalists who were covering the sit-in of reform forces at Palm Court. The assault was described as the worst of its kind as it came after an agreement between Jordan Press Association and Public Security Department stating that journalists be provided with special vests distinguishing them from others following an increase of complaints of aggressions against journalists committed by security forces in the field. The events which took place on Friday, 15th of July of that year (2011) which included deliberate beating by security forces of every one who was wearing the special vest made no doubt that there was an official targeting of journalists. 15 journalists were injured on that day, some seriously in addition to other cases of beating, smashing of cameras, vehicles and verbal insults. Those events arose the resentment of mass media and organizations and associations concerned with press freedoms including Jordan Press Association which organized many sits-in and issued a number of condemnation statements.
According to the report, August witnessed a recession in the intensity of violations where only 5 cases were recorded, the most serious of which was the incitement campaign and threats against the writer at AD-DOSTOUR daily Oraib Al-Rantawi following the publication of an article written by him in the paper criticizing the dissertations of some political powers. September recorded violations, the gravest of which was the approval by the Lower House of Parliament of article 23 of the Law of Corruption Fight Commission which states “ that anyone who circulates or attributes without any legitimate claim to any one or contributes in this by any public means whatsoever any of the corruption deeds stated in article (5) of this law and led to any harm of his reputation or dignity shall be fined with an amount not less than 30 thousand Jordan Dinars and not exceeding 60 thousands). The approval was considered by media and political circles as a new restriction on media freedoms. October recorded 6 violations and a similar number was recorded in November, the most serious of which was the attempt to attack Al-Jazeera channel by a group of pro-Syrian regime activists. December recorded 8 violations.
The report talks about new phenomena which were unknown in the past with regard to violations of media freedoms and their emergence was linked to public moves demanding the achievement of political reforms. It also talks about the reflection of those phenomena on the reality of media freedoms in the kingdom. It indicates that one of the consequences of public moves was the rise of the ceiling of press freedoms particularly when dealing with corruption issues. As a result of this, more of what was called “thugs” joined the violators of press and media freedoms.
The “thugs" phenomenon has appeared in Jordan for the first time and those "Thugs" practiced the rudest physical, psychological and verbal aggressions against demonstrators, journalists and media. However, the intervention of those new activists was not restricted to assaults on journalists during their coverage of the marches and demonstrations but extended to include threatening, demonstration and assault on mass media and journalists working for them. Those interventions and societal pressures (non-professional interventions) in many cases based on tribal structure and the condition of relative security lawlessness because of the government and security apparatuses negligence to deal with this phenomenon decisively.
Through the follow-up of the record of violations, an increase in administrative interventions in editing affairs was noticed, which means that the administrations and owners of mass media and newspapers, especially businessmen began to tighten their grip on their papers and their means fearing the consequences of the rise of the ceiling of freedom. The owners opted for adopting measures against journalists like arbitrary discharge from office or the threat of resorting to it to keep them within a low ceiling of freedom.
In this regard, we made a link in the analysis methodology between the arbitrary discharge from office and the administrative interventions with their different forms as they were observed in last year (2011). It was noticed that administrative changes in the structure of mass media involved many discharges from office, appointments and changes.
The report came out with a host of recommendations addressed to all parties concerned with media job. It called for adjustments on the laws organizing freedom of opinion and expression that guarantee more freedoms for press and media, and the foremost of which are the laws of publications and publishing, penalties, the right of obtaining information and the abolishment of the authority of the State Security Court of prosecuting journalists.
The report stressed the necessity of formulating legislations prohibiting assault on journalists and mass media and such legislations should include imposing penalties and taking legal actions against any figure or party proved to be involved in incitement or aggression on media men as well as ceasing soft or rough containment policies practiced by government institutions against mass media.
The report asserted the need that security apparatuses should provide protection for all journalists and media men in the field and refrain from resorting to force under any condition. It called also for organizing workshops between media men and security officials to reach a joint formula of mutual understanding that guarantees that each of them perform its work in the field without affecting each other. It also said that security apparatuses - in coordination with Jordan Pres Association and other civic institutions – should train individuals from public security and Gendarmerie forces on how to deal with journalists and media men in the field as well as conducting intensive courses for security officials on human rights. It called for activating the regulation of Accountability and Penalties for the affiliates of the different security departments who commit assaults on journalists and bring those who are proved to be involved for trial before the Police Court.
The report called for Jordan Press Association and media establishments to take all necessary measures to provide maximum protection for journalists during their work especially when they cover major events and to give special attention for these measures in the law and convention of the Jordan Press Association.
The report called for conducting training courses for journalists on field work especially during major events and how to deal security men during those events. It also called for Jordan Press Association to follow up all complaints lodged by media men against security men with concerned officials at security departments until a decision is taken in relation with those complaints and announcing the results of investigations conducted on them.
The report urged the media men to comply with the instructions to guarantee their safety during their field work like wearing press vests and putting the identity labels. It also asked media establishments which they work for to make available the requirements of their safety. It also called for media to adopt the permanent revelation policy with regard to any “soft or rough “ security interventions as the adoption of such a policy will encourage “ security personnel “ to ease their interventions even if they are soft. It also asserted that the journalist should comply with impartiality and objectivity during his coverage of the events.
The report demanded civic society organizations to document all violations encountered by the journalists while performing their job through continued communication with media men and media establishments. It also demanded that there should be a coordination between security departments and Jordan Press Association to conduct training courses for security men on human rights.