Jordan's press syndicate attacks its own over 'irresponsible' reporting



 
Fresh from a round of criticism for their coverage of Jordan’s economic and cultural policy decisions, the Jordanian media are again under attack. This time, the Jordanian Press Association is attacking some of its own members for their misreporting of recent political and economic scandals.
 
By OULA FARAWATI
 
JORDAN IFTAR CRITICISM
An Iftar dinner with Jordan's King Abdallah in which he called on the Jordanian press to be more responsible in its reporting. R.R.

AMMAN, September 26, 2008 (MENASSAT) – Once again, the Jordanian media are under attack for their reporting on domestic political developments. Only now, the criticism is coming from what should be their number one defender, the Jordan Press Association (JPA).

The summer months bore witness to a tide of political and economic scandals in Jordan.

Numerous sensitive files were opened, from government officials accused of corruption, human trafficking that allegedly involved the head of the Royal Court, Bassem Awadallah, Jordan's sudden thaw with Hamas and some controversial new laws to spiraling prices and the sale of some key public properties.

The Jordanian media varied in their reactions to these critical issues but few remained neutral, firing shots back and forth and watching as a discreet power struggle within the decision-making circles took shape.

Then, last Wednesday, the Jordanian Press Association (JPA) issued an unusually harsh statement, warning "a number of newspapers and news websites against continuing the unprofessional media battle that is instigating odious prejudices and violating all basic principles of the media."

'Deplorable and irresponsible'

The JPA has rarely issued such critical statements of its own members.

The head of the association, the editor in chief of the state-run daily Al Rai, Abdul Wahab Zgheilat, even went as far as threatening some of its members with disciplinary action.

"The JPA will not stand and watch. It will shoulder its responsibility in stopping this deplorable and irresponsible media battle," Zgheilat said.

The JPA has threatened that it "will refer any non-complying member to its disciplinary boards for legal action."

The Press and Publications Law (PPL) prohibits Jordanians from practicing journalism unless they are members of the JPA.

The association describes its mission as protective of the press freedom within "the framework of its moral, national and patriotic responsibility." The PPL gives the JPA the authority to discipline or expel journalists who work in a way that is seen as unacceptable under the association's rules. 

This is very reminiscent of a similar attack by the JPA that weekly newspapers were subjected to in Jordan during most of the 1990's.

Nidal Mansour, publisher of Al Hadath Weekly and director of Center for the Protection of Journalists, expressed concern that news websites will suffer the same fate as the weeklies, which “came under the knife of the PPL, which has fostered self censorship within journalists and crippled the freedom of journalists."

Manour admitted that "some websites" were practicing unprofessional journalism, adding that he worried that the government would use the current crisis to impose even stricter limitations on the media.

Imposing self-censorship

The JPA recently gave its members who run news websites two options: either accept a binding "code of honor" dictating their work limitations or risk government censorship. The news websites, which number more than twenty in Jordan, have refused the code of honor as another limitation of press freedom.

Many journalists contend that the government is using the JPA to regulate the work of these websites because they operate through overseas servers and blocking them, a common government approach, has proved unproductive. One news website, arabtimes.com, has been blocked by the government but Jordanians can easily access it through a proxy server.

Observers say that Jordan is witnessing an unprecedented power struggle. Two major groups are battling for power: the liberals, represented by Awadallah and Jordanian officials of Palestinian origin, and the traditional government figures, represented by the Prime Minister's office and the state's institutions, which are run almost entirely by Jordanians of Jordanian origins.

Those two opposing factions are struggling to win power. The liberals, led by Awadallah, have been running the economic show in Jordan towards liberalization, privatization and the sale of key government assets. This is exactly the opposite stance of the traditional government figures who oppose liberalization, privatization or the sale of strategic land holdings.

The media has obviously taken sides in this struggle, and has been accused of being wholly inadequate in its response to the power play.

Political analyst Mohammad Abu Rumman believes that smart journalists should use this power struggle as an opportunity to gain acces to sensitive information that was previously withheld.

Abu Rumman, head of Al Ghad Daily's op/ed section which hosts a politically and economically diverse corps of writers, believes that a large part of what is happening in the media is simply a reflection of the political stand-off.

One senior political Jordanian journalist said he thought it was acceptable to take sides in the conflict because this is part of the political process of which the media is an integral part.

"What worries me though is that journalists are not making up their own minds. Their opinion and line of work is being dictated by people who are heavily involved in this struggle," he said.

A message from the King

The Jordanian royalty itself has also become involved in the media war.

The JPA's annual Ramadan Iftar dinner is usually attended by King Abdallah hmself. But this year, the King sent Prince Raad to represent him, which was widely interpreted as a message to the 500 or so journalists who attended the dinner.

It was the second message of "disappointment" that the King has relayed to the Jordanian press corps. The first message could not have been more explicit: the King called some of the media "careless, incompetent, shameful and irresponsible."

The king's ire last time was also drawn by how the media reported on som government economic and cultural policy decisions.

"Should Jordan's future be held hostage to rumors and gossip? And should false information be the reference for our Jordanian press? Should we remain silent until the truth becomes the victim of irresponsible journalism?" the King asked in an interview.

BBC correspondent and deputy editor in chief of Al Ghad daily, Saad Hattar, read the King's message as yet another warning that Jordan's journalism establishment should rein itself in and be more responsible.

"The JPA also has sent a warning that should be coupled with the adoption of clear and professional standards that do not limit freedoms or lower the media quality," he wrote in Al Ghad.

As Jordan's hot media summer draws to an end, Jordan's journalists must sit and watch, hoping that this crisis will not end with stricter rules being imposed the JPA or the government on all journalists.