Media freedoms in Jordan remained unchanged in 2014 with no noticeable progress whatsoever compared to 2013, according to an annual report conducted by the Centre for Defending the Freedoms of Journalists (CDFJ).
The report, titled the “Dead End”, sheds light on the status of media freedoms, indicating that the overwhelming majority of media personnel did not see any progress in media freedoms, with 19.7% believing they went back tremendously and only 3.2% saying they improved hugely.
The 2014 report presented for the first time two opinion polls; one that measured the opinion of journalists and the second based on a study conducted by the CDFJ, entitled “Under the Microscope” Diagnosis of the Media Reality in Jordan”, which focused on all the political and social aspects of the profession, starting with legislation.
Both surveys reveal the perceptions of journalists regarding dealing with all the requirements of practicing the profession. They also reveal the magnitude of the crisis and the contradictions through which journalists evaluate their issues.
The second main component of the report for this year is the section on violations, which is based on the legal approach that is adopted by the “Ayn” [Eye] unit for monitoring and documenting infringements.
The unit works along with the Network for Media Freedoms Defenders in the Arab world (SANAD), which is also managed by the CDFJ in cooperation with Arab stakeholders to document violations against media people in the region in a systematic and institutional ways.
The outcomes of the first poll showed that those who described media freedoms in Jordan as excellent have declined; standing at 2.4% compared with 26.5% who perceived them as “low”.
One of the main findings of the 359-page report is that a total of 95.2% of surveyed journalists practice self-censorship, up from 91% in 2013 and 85.8% in 2012.
Moreover, a total of 93.2% of journalists said the armed forces are on the forefront of issues they avoided to tackle and for the first time, a total of 90.4% bluntly confessed that they are scared of criticizing the king, the Royal Court and the Royal family members.
Moreover, 26% of the interviewed journalists did not see any reform in the media scene with 46.5% believing that the media status has declined at different levels.
The poll also tried to measure journalists’ understanding of the media policies and their opinion on the establishment of a complaint centre, in addition to figuring out the status of the access to information law and reality of gender issues and people with disabilities working in the media.
The report also addressed the complaints and violations committed against journalists in 2014, while analyzing the types of infringements documented by the centre during the past five years.
According to Ayn, a total of 153 violations have been committed against media people and journalists in 2014.
The report highlighted that the law is becoming the tool through which authorities increase their pressure on the media staff, such as issuing circulations that ban publishing any information related to the security apparatuses on the account that they affect the state security and referring those who do to the State Security Court.
In the study, the CDFJ compared and analyzed 869 violations committed during the past five years, recording 35 types of violations and breaches journalists in Jordan are subject to.
The most frequent violation was blocking news websites, which occurred 317 times during the past five years, including 291 in 2014 based on the new amendments of the Press and Publications Law, which stipulates that new websites should be licensed.
For the first time, the CDFJ designed a media freedom indicator in the Arab world that seeks to measure the levels of the freedoms in six Arab states; Jordan, Egypt, Tunis, Yemen, Iraq and Palestine.
Some 22 media and human rights experts were gathered for workshops held by the CDFJ to discuss the status of the media in the countries in question and challenges facing the profession.
The report came out with eight aspects that summarize the situation according to the violations and complaints documented by Ayn during the last five years.
Among the findings, the report maintained that when journalists report violations they are subject to, they suffer from indirect punishment, resulting in more media people hiding the infringements against them.
The study also addressed self-censorship and the issue of work security, using the law as a tool to restrict their freedoms and restrictions related to the mandatory membership in the Jordan Press Association.
CDFJ President Nidal Manousr said in the introduction of the report that “five years have passed since the start of the Arab Spring that saw black tragedy. After the euphoria of the victory of the freedom and the roaring voice of its defenders, came a defeat after defeat, while the curses landed on the media”.
He added that 2014 was “not different from any other year, but the drawbacks have peaked in it”.
“No promises were met in 2014 to take us out of the state of limb, on the contrary, the crisis has amplified and became compound. We used witnessed the scream of one journalist everyday being attacked and now we wake up to voices of hundreds of journalists who fail make ends meet after the print media disaster left them on the street”, said Mansour.
He noted that self-censorship has become prevalent in the media, which is the result of years of interference, intimidation and lawsuits.
“The era of direct contacts with journalists has ended. This method has become very rare because there is no need for it when those leading the media are taking to themselves the censorship and filtering processes on behalf of the government, its security apparatuses and all the influential figures,” noted Mansour.
He indicated that many journalists have been banned from coverage and access of information, adding that several professionals from the sector were attacked in 2014.
“We did not hear or find that any of the perpetrators was held accountable for the violations. They all simply escaped punishment,” the CDFJ president said.
Despite the slight decline in the government’s interference in 2014, which reached 81.1%, the average percentage of the official interference during the past five years stood at 83.7%, a very high rate that dissipates the government’s slogans on its protection of the media freedoms.
Laws and legislation continued to be, according to the majority of journalists, a restriction for the freedom of the press, with more than half of the journalists perceiving them as such, at a rate of 51.8%, while 32.5% believing they do not affect the freedom of the media, and 15.7% seeing them as supportive of the freedoms.
Between 2008 and 2014 – about ten years – indications continue to show in opinion polls that more than half of the journalists believe that legislation in Jordan are restrictive of media freedoms.
The striking phenomenon in 2014 is the state of division between media personnel in the public and private sectors as 29.7% of those working in public media outlets believed that laws represent a constraint against press freedoms, compared with 59.5% from the private institutions who believed so.
According to the report, this outcome is expected since journalists in the private sector are the ones who pay the price of the pressuring legislation and the ones who are usually referred to court.
A total of 20.1% of the surveyed journalists believed that the government did not adhere to applying the constitutional amendments related to media freedoms
Criticizing tribal leaders topped the list of taboos for journalists, with 86.7% considering it to be among the top prohibitions, a thing that highlights the pressing social environment they face in addition to the political stress.
This is followed by the security apparatuses at 83.9%, a ratio that saw substantial decline between 2011 and 2012, standing at 65.3% and 67.9% respectively.
Of the most three significant subjects media practitioners avoid to criticize, the Royal Court comes first with 23.3%, followed by the army and the armed forces at 22.4%, the security apparatuses at 13% and religious issues at 11.2%.
The other aspect of the media crisis in Jordan is certainly an internal one, far from the restrictions of the legislation and violations.
Three years after the passing of the Press and Publications Law, and two years after the implementation, journalists continue to have conflicting opinions towards it and towards its effects, particularly on electronic media and the mandatory licensing.
Around 34.1% believed that it constituted a restriction to freedoms compared with 34.5% who saw that it contributed to enhancing them, while 30.1% believed it did not affect press freedoms whatsoever.
Within this context, 39.4% believed that blocking unlicensed websites is considered a restriction, while 34.5% saw otherwise and deemed the step one meant to enhance freedom. A total of 25.7 believed it did not affect freedoms.
The survey unveiled that the conditions stipulated in the Press and Publications Law failed to produce professionalism and did not help end the negative factors, including corruption in the electronic media.
The “shocking” truth is that the state of professionalism and commitment to objectivity, credibility and balance remained unchanged as agreed by 50% of the surveyed journalists.
On the other hand, some 43.8% believed the slander went down, but the overall situation is unsatisfactory with journalists believing that blackmail reach 23.3% in the sector and is on the rise.
Meanwhile, 16.1% believed that cases of defamation are increasing, according to the report.
The containment and control of media practitioners at the hands of various parties continued in 2014, with the government taking the lead in such attempts. The phenomenon increased during the year in question, reaching 22.5%. The government ranked first with the containment attempts at 25%, followed by commercial companies at 23.7%, businesspeople at 19.7% and the security apparatuses at 7.9%.
Ironically and catastrophic, the vast majority of journalists, 58.1%, said the containment attempts did not affect their professional direction and performance at work.
On the same matter, 49.4% of the surveyed media people heard of other journalists being subject of containment attempts, bringing the total of those who were faced such practices, directly or not, to 79.1%, which is a shocking result because it means that only 20% were not exposed to containment attempts to influence their stances.
It is given that lawsuits and resorting to litigation is an inalienable right and is not considered a violation unless it is accompanied by detention, imprisonment or transgressions against standards of fair trials.
However, establishing that 20% of lawsuits are filed by the government – not to mention those filed by officials in their personal or official capacities, which stood at 25%. This indicates that resorting to the court is a practice that is followed to harass journalists and utilize the law to place pressure on pressure freedoms.
Evaluating the CDFJ services and work
Sixteen years since its establishment in 1998, the CDFJ has been keen to complete a review and evaluation of its performance through surveying the opinions of media practitioners who benefit from its role and services.
A total of 75.3% of participants in the survey believed that the centre defends the freedom of the media, while only 2.8% believed the opposite.
The CDFJ received an even higher level of confidence, when 85.9% stated that they believed that the institution was playing a fruitful role.
More importantly, journalists believed that the CDFJ has a basic role to play in reducing violations they are subjected to, with 29% of them believing that it carries out this task to a large extent, 44% to a medium extent, 17.7% to a limited extent, and only 5.2% believed that it has no role in this regard.
The results of the survey revealed that the overwhelming majority of those surveyed, 73.8%, are satisfied with the CDFJ’s performance.
Around 56.3% said the CDFJ’s services have improved compared to previous years, while 78.3% of the respondents believed that CDFJ contributed to developing the media practitioners’ legal awareness and developed their capacity in dealing with legislation that restrict media freedoms.
Additionally, 75.3% believed that the CDFJ has contributed to the development of the performance of legal practitioners and lawyers specialized in media freedom defense.
Moreover, 75.3% also believed that it has contributed to providing assistance and legal support to media practitioners and media institutions.
A total of 72.3% believed that it has supported the development of legislation that regulate the work of the media and the legislation that impose restrictions on it.
Finally, 73.6% believed that it has contributed to strengthening the rule of law and fair trials in media related cases.
Furthermore, 71.6% of the respondents confirmed that CDFJ contributed to strengthening the role of the judiciary in protecting the freedom of the media and expression, with 72.4% believing that it helped limiting violations against media practitioners, and 66.2% saying that it contributed to holding the violators accountable through local and international legal mechanisms.
On the same matter, the survey revealed that 70.9% of the respondents believed that the CDFJ contributed to developing the media professionalism, while 70.9% saw that it contributed to developing the media’s accommodating environment.
In addition, 77.4% of the journalists expressed their satisfaction with the CDFJ’s speedy response to the requirements, and complaints they submit regarding the violations they face, and 74.5% expressed satisfaction over the follow-up mechanism the centre follows to address their needs and problems.
A total of 72.6% said they were satisfied with the effort and method carried out by CDFJ to inform them on the centre’s procedures and mechanisms in responding to their requirements, comments, and complaints regarding the violations they faced.
Additionally, 79.5% expressed their satisfaction with the way CDFJ’s staffs deal with their communications, requirements, comments, and complaints.
The survey showed that 80.8% of media practitioners were satisfied with the level of professionalism in the performance of the CDFJ’s staff and/or its lawyers, consultants and/or trainers in providing services, and that 80.3% were satisfied with the extent to which the centre’s cadres are knowledgeable of the tasks they are supposed to perform.
Some 59.5% believed that the CDFJ ranked at top of the most effective institutions in monitoring and documenting violations in an organized and systematic manner, followed by the Jordan Press Association at 27.5% and the National Centre for Human Rights at 4.2%.
The CDFJ assumes a top position in its attention and efforts in issuing an annual report on the state of freedoms, whereby 63.6% believed that it is the most effective party in this field, followed by the Jordan Press Association at 25.6% and the National Center for Human Rights at 2.6%.
Surveying the state of professionalism, policies and self-regulation
This is the first time the CDFJ completes a specialized survey about the state of the Jordanian media, focusing on its professional aspects and general limitations.
This included attempts to identify journalists’ understanding of media policies, studying the reality of self-regulation, extrapolating their position from the establishment of a complaints council, the state of the right to access information, the reality of gender in the media, and persons with disabilities.
The indicators of the survey were used in the study, titled “Under the Microscope: Diagnosis of the Media Reality in Jordan”, and its outcomes were linked to the state of freedoms survey that is carried out annually, making the picture of the media reality complete to a large extent.
A total of 26% believed that the media scene is not witnessing any state of reform, while only 6.5% believed that this was happening at a large scale, 33% believed that it is happening at a medium level and 34% believed that it was happening at a limited scale.
Moreover, 46.5% of the participants in the survey believed that the state of the media is witnessing a recession, though at different, medium, and low levels.
Meanwhile, 26.5% were certain that the state of the media is progressing at all levels, and 26.5% believed it remained without any change.
News websites received a higher level of satisfaction than before, with 83.5% of the surveyed responded with positive remarks towards them.
In the details, 22.5% were very satisfied over the wesbites, 48% were moderately satisfied, 13% were satisfied to a small extent only and 16% were completely unsatisfied.
A state of contradiction can be seen more clearly when surveying the opinions of journalists regarding the control of the government over the media outlets.
According to the report, 97.5% of media practitioners believed that the government controls the Jordan Press Agency, Petra, at various levels.
Nonetheless, only 1.5% believed that the government does not control Petra and 80% believed the agency to be controlled by the government at a large extent.
Additionally, 98.5% of journalists believed that the government controls the radio and television stations.
What is strange about the journalists’ opinion is that they believed that the government completely controls the daily newspapers, by 99%, taking into consideration that the daily newspapers are not affiliated with the government and are supposed to be independent.
In spite of the general notion that website are not under the government’s control, journalists did not see this conclusively, with 87% believing they are under the government’s control, while only 10.5% believed the control to be at a high level, 45.5% to a medium level and 31% to a low level.
A total of 12.5% believed the government does not control them.
The media scene in Jordan is a delicate stage as the survey showed, with more than 41.5% of the respondents believing that the government is not serious in establishing a free media, while 57.5% believed that the government is serious about the issue.
When asked about the players in the Kingdom’s media scene, the surveyed journalists put the government on the forefront with 14.6%, followed by the Intelligence Department at 13.2% and the Royal Court at 11.6%.
But journalists then go back to point to the security apparatus in fourth position at 10.6%, followed by businesspeople at 9.7%, advertising companies at 8.9%, civil society organizations at 6.8%, the parliament at 5.8%, public relations departments at 4.7%, followed by the Jordan Press Association and other unions and parties at 3.6% each.
The catastrophic situation is that the public’s influence over the media outlets came last at 1%, although journalists around the world should address the public as the most important segment.
This is very dangerous situation that affects the independence of the media outlets, especially with the Intelligence Department and the security apparatus together having a level of influence that reaches 28.3%, followed by the government and the Royal Court.
Violations and Complaints
Violations against media practitioners did not see any dramatic development or change, remaining within its averages before 2013, according to the report on the media freedom status.
The media work environment in Jordan continued to bear the margins of relative freedom, and serious violations continued to be linked with assaults against journalists during their coverage of sit-ins in particular.
Detention continued to be a measure practiced to disperse protests and sit-ins, with journalists being the first victims.
What was particularly worrying in the case of media freedoms in 2014 is the continued deterioration of the print press and the ramifications of this on the security and stability of the livelihoods of media practitioners.
It became expected, rather than unlikely, that daily newspapers would close down, with a large numbers of employees laid-off, such as the case at Al-Arab Al-Yawm daily.
On top of that, the use of the law and rules by the government as a tool for restriction continued, especially when it issued circulations to media institutions demanding that they refrain from publishing material on specific cases, which is considered a prior censorship.
What was more worrying was the continuing referral of media personnel to the State Security Court in cases related to the press and publication, on the basis of the anti-terrorism law.
The Violations and Complaints Section contained three chapters; the first presented the outcomes of a questionnaire on the forms of complaints and violations journalists were subject to in 2014, in addition to the efforts exerted by Ayn in monitoring and documenting violations against media practitioners.
This 2014 report highlighted the violating parties according to journalists’ allegations they reported through the Ayn unit.
The aim behind this was to identify parties that commit infringements against journalists without being held accountable, and thus, escape punishment.
The report took into consideration the distribution of media practitioners and persons working in media institutions who were subjected to assaults and violations because of their work in the media, paying attention to the gender of the victims.
Among the most important findings of the section on violations stem from the fact that the law has become a tool to which the authorities resort increasingly to pressure media practitioners, including, as an example, issuing gagging orders that prohibit publishing information about the security systems or issues that were considered by the law to affect the state security directly, in addition to continuing to refer journalists to the State Security Court.
“Ayn” unit documented 153 violations against media practitioners, journalists, and media institutions in 2014.
These violations were mentioned in 46 questionnaires distributed by the unit out of 65 forms. It was maintained that 23 forms out of the total number of forms did not include violations and were thus filed.
Furthermore, all violations documented in the report took place in 37 cases, with each case containing one or more violations, such as the case when a journalist is prevented from coverage, physically or verbally attacked, or/and his/her freedom is restricted.
It was evident from the nature of the complaints received by the “Ayn” unit during 2014 that the majority of journalists who submitted complaints alleged that the security apparatuses were the ones responsible of them.
Analyzing these complaints showed that 85 violations were committed by the security personnel, out of a total of 153 violations recorded. Hence, the security apparatuses come at the top of the list in committing violations against the media practitioners.
The report registered 25 types of violations to which media practitioners were subject in Jordan during 2014.
Banning media coverage continued to top the list of violations against journalists, as was the case in previous years, standing at 19.6%, followed in by the seizing of freedom, which was repeated 19 times at 12.4%, followed arbitrary detention which was repeated 16 times, at 10.5%.
Physical abuse and threats of injury came next, with each repeated 13 times at 8.5%. Verbal abuse came fifth, being repeated 11 times at 7.2%.
The harassment and blocking of websites violations came next with each being repeated nine times at 6%.
The rate started to decline when it came to withholding information, which was repeated seven times at 4.6%.
The prior and post censorship violations, each of which was repeated three times, came ranked seven with 2% each.
Banning publishing, electronic piracy, death threats, assault against work equipment, confiscation of work equipment, incitement, and character assassination were repeated twice each, registering 1.3% for each violation.
Nevertheless, the report concluded that arbitrary detention and physical abuse – considered among the most dangerous violations – were highly committed compared to other form of abuse in Jordan.
Researchers in Ayn unit established that 34 out of 153 violations were deemed as serious abuses, but whose perpetrators normally go unpunished.
It was not evident to Ayn that any of the perpetrators was held accountable, which means they were never brought to justice.
The report presented 22 cases that are considered the most prominent complaints received by “Ayn” unit.
Comparing and analyzing the types violation and their frequency over five years (2010 – 2014)
For the first time, the media freedom status report presented comparisons of violations against media practitioners between 2010 and 2014.
Through this, the CDFJ measured the effect of media freedoms on the so-called the “Arab Spring” and the democratic transformations that stormed the Arab region and affected Jordan in particular in 2011 in order to identify the situation of media freedoms and violations committed against them, their reasons and trends.
The Ayn unit was able to monitor and document 869 abused committed in the Kingdom during the period in question, registering 35 types of assaults against journalists and media freedoms, in spite of the disparity in their occurrence.
Blocking news websites was the most repeated violation that took place over the past 5 years, taking place 317 times at a rate of 36.5%, according to Ayn.
Amendments made to the Press and Publications Law in 2012 were the reason behind the blocking many websites. As a result, when the changes went into effect in 2012, 291 news unlicensed websites were blocked.
Banning media coverage was a prevalent violation during the comparison years, repeated 85 times, followed directly by threats to inflict harm, which took place 74 times, harassment, 56 times, physical assault, 54 times, withholding information, 40 times and verbal abuse, 39 times.
Ayn researchers believed that the above violations ranked the top eight, and were most common and frequent abuses committed against media practitioners in Jordan.
The unit registered 78 flagrant violations against journalists in the Kingdom during the years in question, representing 9% of the total abuses recorded by the researchers.
Physical abuse ranked first with 54 incidents registered, accounting to 69.2% of the total number of most serious violations that breaches the right to personal safety.
Arbitrary detention ranked second at a rate of 24.3% was repeated 19 times during the comparison period.
However, it was noticed that this type of abuse was committed extensively during 2014.
In third place came death threats, which were repeated twice in 2014 at the rate of 0.2%.
Media freedoms index
The CDFJ designed an index for media freedoms in the Arab world in a bid to measure the reality of freedoms.
This effort was part of SANAD, which issues a regional report on the status of media freedoms in the region. It is currently in its third edition.
The index, which includes six countries; Jordan, Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Iraq, and Palestine, was based on a systematic questionnaire that includes basic aspects.
The research team prepared an investigative questionnaire that comprised of 22 pages containing six main sections. Different sections were given relative degrees according to their importance and the criteria they include; political environment, the legislative framework, media practitioners, impunity, access to information, and right to establish associations.
The total number of the questionnaire degrees was 275 after deleting the aspect on defining the media practitioner.
Participants in the focus group were requested to evaluate the situation regarding the protection and freedom of journalists in Jordan.
Experts participating in the focus group filled out the questionnaire that is related to the situation of media in Jordan.
The qualitative and gender composition were taken into consideration in the meetings, with the number of male participants were 15, or 68%, while seven female participants were present, 32%.
Questions included a section on the constitutions and legislation that govern the work of media people and the level they affect media freedoms. Out of 15 degrees for the three aspects, Jordanians participants responded with an average of 4.5 degrees.
The estimated grades given by the participants during the focus group’s meetings gave low grades for the status of freedoms in Jordan, which reflects their personal perception and convictions regarding the difficulty of the current situation which the media status, especially in view of the repercussions of security and their convictions that legislation, though they carry positive indicators, are not similar to the reality.
When evaluating the aspect of media practitioners, average responses were 64.5 out of 80 grades. A lengthy discussion took place among the participants regarding targeting media practitioners and the violations they are subjected to, with the majority of the media personnel stressing that journalists are subjected to violations, yet the nature of these violations in Jordan has not reached the level of deeming them as serious and/or flagrant.
The average number of participant grades regarding impunity questions was 45.3 out of 95 grades. It is important to emphasize here that these grades represent the point of view and perception of the participants in the focus groups, while researchers in CDFJ agreed that Jordan, as is the case in all Arab countries, did not take any measures to prevent impunity. Hence, they gave a zero grade for the impunity aspect.
The average responses in the access to information section set by the participants was 5.5 points out of 20 allocated for this aspect.
The average for Jordanian participants’ responses on the trade union rights and rights to association in the Kingdom was 4 out of 20 points.
The report arrived at eight abstracts from the reality of violations and complaints it presented and analyzed for the past year 2014.
In a striking development, the Public Security Department has issued instructions to pursue media practitioners who complained to the Ayn unit for being assaulted and beaten, while breaking their cameras and detaining them while covering a protest outside the Kalouti mosque in Al-Rabiya, after Judge Ra’ed Zuaiter was martyred at the hands of the Israeli occupation forces.
Moreover, it became evident that journalist refrain from disclosing violations they are subjected to due to fear and the need to avoid problems, especially as they are aware that the bodies they are complaining against have the power to harm them and affect their future and profession.
Journalists also continued to complain of prior-censorship.
It was maintained that self-censorship among media practitioners, reaching 95.2%, after the 2013 survey showed that it stood at 91.1%. This result is not an exception but an extension of previous years.
The year 2014 was the most dangerous in terms of the situation of media outlets, particularly daily newspapers.
After Al-Arab Al-Yawm was closed and most of its staff were dismissed, and then published again with a core staff, Ad-Dustour continued to suffer under from closure threats after the management stopped paying salaries and wages to its staff.
What is certain is that the winds of the economic and financial crisis the Jordanian media are going through are seriously affecting media freedoms.
When the rights of journalists to a respectable life are not preserved, press freedoms issues become marginal and out of the frame of attention.
The CDFJ recommended ending the government’s ownership of the print media, directly or indirectly, give priority to the establishment of independent media outlets, such as the BBC and draw up codes of conducts that guarantee the separation and independence of editorial policies from the ownership of the outlets.
It also underlined the importance of pluralistic trade unions as a tool for defending the interests of media practitioners.
The abstracts also included a detailed section on impunity of those who abuse media personnel.