Strikes at al-Aqaba reveal the failure of the Jordanian media

Could it be that the Jordanian media focuses on the capital and doesn’t care about events outside Amman? Does the importance of the news differ according to geography? How much space is given to people’s concerns outside the capital? These questions were answered through the local Jordanian media’s coverage of the strike of the port workers in al-Aqaba, in which 2,600 freelance workers participated to demand their rights from the Ports Department in Jordan.
By MOHAMMAD ABU ARQOUB (translated from the original Arabic)
Jordan AlAqaba Port
2,600 freelance workers strike at Aqaba Ports Department in Jordan, event fails to get proper media attention.

AQABA, Aug 14, 2009 (MENASSAT) — Freelance workers at the port in al-Aqaba, a coastal town in the south of Jordan, demonstrated on July 25th, while local media institutions merely mentioned this in passing in the news, although the protesters caused the disruption of operations at al-Aqaba Port, which lead to the loss of about $28,400,000. The local media didn’t pay attention to the economic, political or even social ramifications of this case.

The workers were protesting against the administration’s decision to  give the top-level employees housing allowance, allocating  about $30,000 to them, while ignoring the freelance workers who felt marginalized and disregarded.

July 27th was an exceptional event for al-Aqaba. Security forces attacked the strikers and dispersed them by force, arresting dozens and injuring many. One worker got a serious blow to his head, sending him into a coma, which required his transportation by helicopter to a hospital. Al-Aqaba is more than 350 km away from Amman, the capital city, where the local media is centralized.

Mohammad al-Sanid, head of the freelance workers and one of the strike organizers, says, “We didn’t see any journalists covering the strike. If they had, we wouldn’t have been subject to such violence. In fact, the security forces took advantage of the media absence to abuse us.”

Al-Sanid described the media coverage during the first days of the attack.  “The strike started without any suitable coverage. In fact, it was weak and some media said that the number of strikers amounted to hundreds, while we were about 2,600 workers.”

Journalist and columnist at al-Ghad magazine, Samih al-Moayta, doesn’t agree with al-Sanid, arguing that the media was not weak in covering the protests.
“The event was not impressive at the beginning because the strikes had been a common occurrence before. The workers didn’t speak about their cause strongly to the media; the media didn’t realize things would reach this level.”

Few reporters sent to cover strike

Al-Sanid blamed the official Jordanian media, especially Jordanian TV for ignoring the subject. “We ask the official media to be the media of the state, not the media of a government and to present the opinion of the workers and the government, not just of the government alone, especially because of the fierce competition between the different channels, which harms the reputation of Jordanian TV.”

Al-Moayta agrees, “The way Jordanian TV dealt with the issue was catastrophic. It didn’t cover the issue at all except after the intervention of the government. It ignored the workers and gave them no attention.”

According to al-Sanid, Al-Rai newspaper “was clear in adopting the point of view of the government, and published inaccurate information stating the strike was over when it was actually not.”

Concerning this matter, columnist Ahmad Abu Khalil, wrote in al-Arab al-Youm (Arabs Today) that the media coverage of the strike was abominable, and al-Rai’s coverage was unprofessional.

Newspapers Al-Arab al-Youm, al-Ghad (Tomorrow) and al-Dustour (Constitution) tried to show all points of views, as al-Sanid says, stressing that some private radios and websites increased their coverage of the strike only after it occurred, as happened with al-Ordon, Amoun and Amannet. It was also clear that the dailies as well as websites failed to get exclusive pictures from their photojournalists, while the local media used what the workers and the citizens were sending.

Alaa Fazaa, editor-in-chief of the Kol al-Ordon website, said, “We were counting on the citizens to get the news. We expected things to get worse, but we didn’t send any reporter to al-Aqaba because of our lack of resources; though we were in constant communication with the workers and officials in al-Aqaba.”

He added, “Exaggerating the facts is expected in this case, so we contacted more than one source to assure credibility. We also contacted the officials to make sure our information was right.” However, he didn’t deny the obvious and intended bias of his website in favor of the workers’ cause, viewing  the strike as “a national humanitarian issue.”

Editor-in-chief of al-Bawaba website, Mohammad Omar, thinks there was an essential problem in the media coverage of the strike, saying “none of the e-news websites sent their reporters to cover the strike in person, even after the crackdown on the workers.”

In regards to citizen's journalism, Omar says it was also ineffectual. “Citizen journalism is not only about sending news to the media; it is about using  social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to get information and pictures out there.” Omar says that Jordan should establish its own social networks to enrich the media.

Media Amman-centric

Despite the importance of the strike, many media workers agreed that Aqaba’s distance from the capital played a role in the Jordanian media’s poor coverage.

Omar thinks that the local media in Jordan is still controlled by a “capital-centric” mentality, focusing on the capital’s political life and famous personalities.

“There is a disregard for the movements and demonstrations of the people. The local media ignore the daily issues that concern the citizens of Jordan.”

Al-Moayta admits, “The distance between al-Aqaba and the center of the country played a major role in weakening the coverage of the event.”

Abu Khalil even accused the newspapers of deliberately avoiding coverage of any violence when it comes to state security. “Some newspapers are known to stop covering any event involving the security forces.”

 Al-Moayta disagrees. “What happened is a result of the unawareness of how events would unfold. There is no fear; we publish bold articles criticizing the government with harsh words. If there was fear, some articles wouldn’t be published.”

Abu Khalil adds that the newspapers made a mistake in counting on their local representatives in al-Aqaba. “They lack the proper experience and courage in transmitting the facts, because they are counting on society surrounding them, such as the mayor, the security forces or other officials.”

The strike created a controversy concerning the role of the local media in following the news, especially in regions far from the capital city. This opens the doors to discussions over the issue of media centralization. Will the local Jordanian media hold itself accountable and conduct a thorough review of its performance, after failing to provide the public with real and timely coverage of this year's biggest demonstrations in Jordan?