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'Internet Blackout Day'
Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 30 - 08 - 2012

Jordan's controversial press law has triggered criticism, writes Khetam Malkawi
The amendments endorsed by the Cabinet and currently being deliberated by parliament would lead to a "setback" in media freedoms in Jordan, activists and media stakeholders said, a matter that was denied by the government which repeatedly insisted that the amendments do not impose restrictions and mainly seek to regulate the media profession.
The government last week endorsed some amendments to the draft law, under which online media will be required to register and receive a licence. The registration fees will be lowered from $13,500 to $1,350.
Also, under the amendments, a specialised court will look into media cases, and set a four-month deadline for this court to wrap up any case it looks into. The legislation also holds online media outlet publishers responsible for comments their readers might post under published articles, in addition to requesting them to archive comments for a period no less than six months.
Despite the government's attempts to defend the law, activists said it violates freedom of speech, and they will use all means to fight the endorsement of the law by parliament.
Basel Okour, co-founder of ammonnews.net, one of the first and most popular news websites in Jordan, describes the law as being "martial", and says it reflects the government's crisis in moving forward in the reform process.
He told Al-Ahram Weekly that the main target of these amendments is to restrict freedoms and stop even the public from publishing their thoughts and opinion.
"Freedoms in Jordan are the worst of the worst," he describes the current situation in the country, while referring to an escalated measures to be adopted by journalists and owners of news websites if parliament endorsed the draft law as proposed by the government.
Activists will not remain silent, according to Okour, who said several activities are in the pipeline to protest against the law, ranging from protests to observing an Internet blackout day.
The Jordan Press Association (JPA) also condemned the amendments. JPA President Tareq Moumani said online media did not distort the image of the Jordanian media as the government claims. "There are some violations in all types of media including in print, but to accuse online media of distorting the image of the media in general is unacceptable," Moumani told the Weekly.
He also blamed the government for not discussing the amendments with the JPA. "We agreed with former governments to discuss any regulation that seeks to regulate the occupation, but this government ignored this," Moumani added.
Despite these protests against the law, the government is defending it by saying the amendments to the bill seeks to regulate media in Jordan and not restrict freedoms.
At the opening of the Parliament's extraordinary session on Sunday, Minster of State for Media Affairs and Communications Samih Maaytah said the amendments, instead, are meant to limit "intruders" to the profession, whom he accused of damaging journalism's credibility.
According to Maaytah, intruders are using media platforms to blackmail and practise character assassination, affecting the kingdom's reputation.
These justifications were not accepted by the Centre for Defending the Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ). Its president, Nidal Mansour, stressed that the main goal of approving the new draft law is to impose more restrictions on the online media and control it, especially after the success achieved by this form of media over the past few years.
"The draft law will put the government in conflict with the international online media and social media activists," Mansour said, adding that by dealing with online media in the same way it deals with print, the government will prevent hundreds of journalists who are not members of JPA to work in the sector, contradicting freedom of expression.
The law also provided the Muslim Brotherhood with the opportunity to criticise the government. They are strongly opposed to the parliament elections law which was recently endorsed by the Jordanian authorities. In a statement issued this week, their political wing, the Islamic Action Front, said the government was committing a sin by imposing restrictions on press freedoms, and demanded that the amendments be withdrawn. The statement added that these amendments are an indicator that the government was not serious in achieving reform as the press is an important pillar to the reform process.
Dozens of websites across Jordan will take part in Internet Blackout Day on Wednesday to protest against the controversial law. Organisers urged websites in the country to take part to protest amendments to the law. The day is called for by a campaign seeking to defend freedom of the Internet called 7oryanet.


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