A – Identification of issue and justification:
Journalists had always faced barriers in their careers and their road of journalism as publishing restrictions and censorship laws had always kept their thoughts and ideas caught up in chains and buried, rates of imprisoned journalists increased rapidly worldwide1; alongside the number of journalists that were shot by fire especially in the Middle East. Egypt, Lebanon, Jordan, Tunisia are ranked in the top “Most Want Uncensored Internet Access” ranked by PEW research center2, this shows how these countries’ governments are applying tough censorship acts on its people and focusing on the internet and particularly social media which became the biggest platform in the world. Journalists now depend on social media a lot and that’s one of the reasons that governments focus is mainly on social media, other reasons that tops this are the movements that are led by social activists online that may cause some kind of turbulence in the state for example “The Arab Spring”.
The course of content that is being used throughout this research paper is power in addition to non-state actors such as online activists and journalists role in challenging state power through cyber space. I will also be working on relating this topic to human rights unit and how it has a major influence on it. I am constantly eager on learning how influencing can journalists be when it comes to sensitive campaigns. Meaning, are they capable of causing change through what they publish? I would want to gain experiential perspective on such a political issue as this engagement will allow me to experience the dynamics of real world politics.
Journalists now find it very difficult to share what is actually true in politics and this is a huge issue that makes it difficult to convey authentic information of interstate or global issues, or even true facts hidden from people about public figures that is mainly corruption in its many ways which is very common nowadays.3 However, truth be told, when an individual is granted a high position within a community, they get a higher chance of being able to cover up or shut down any sort of threats. Yet again, I would want to focus in the research question and my engagement activity revolves around Jordan as a state and its censorship laws and publishing restrictions. As I am a Jordanian citizen and believe it is my right to know the power of journalist’s role in challenging state power through cyber space.
Jordan has been ranked one of the top censored countries in the world, and as the Human Rights Watch 2016 report stated that Jordan’s most significant human right issue is freedom of expression and belief the report stated that law in Jordan criminalizes any type of unwanted criticizing of the king, foreign countries, government institutions or government officials, also including the Islamic religion or defaming others, it is quoted within the report “When asked about taboo topics, 93.3 percent said they avoided criticizing the armed forces, and 90.4 percent stated they feared criticizing the king, the royal court and members of the royal family.4” Jordan reduced media freedom in 2015 by charging at least nine journalists and writers which included Jamal Ayoub who was arrested for writing a column that critiqued Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen5. This overshadows how much journalists do not have the right to fully express them or express the actual events that are taking place. Forbidding the surrounding citizens of knowing the real situations and what actions are being taken.
The 2017 Human Rights Watch report on Jordan discussed how the right of expression and belief in Jordan is still limited and is still an issue. The incident of Nahed Hattar was mentioned he’s a writer that posted a cartoon on his Facebook page critical of ISIS. The cartoon that was posted portrayed an ISIS solider in bed with two women ordering god to bring him wine, he then was charged with insulting religion under the article 278 of the Jordanian penal code. Authorities claimed that the arrest of the writer was for the purpose of preventing insult of religion. Later on in September 25th 2016 Hattar was murdered in front of the “Palace Of Justice” in Amman by an Islamic extremist6. Moreover on August 29th 2016, publishing any news about the king or the royal family in any way was prohibited by the Jordan’s media commission, other than information shared by the royal court.
B – Explanation of Engagement:
In order to explore the issue in depth especially in Jordan which is my focus in my research question and my activity in general; I have engaged and interviewed the CEO of the Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ) in Amman “Nidal Mansour”. Mansour is the publisher of Al Hadath newspaper and also the editor in chief of ainnews.net. Mr. Nidal is also a member of the World Press Freedom Committee which is a committee that has a purpose of defending press globally in many forms. Mansour started off by telling me the purpose of the Center that he opened in Amman, he started by talking how he faced many issues as a journalist in Jordan and that censorship laws and publishing restrictions had always been an obstacle in his career path. Moreover, Mansour saw that there are specific laws that need to be reconsidered especially Article 11 of the Electronic Crime7 which allows the detention and suspension of journalists and activists on social media due to what they write or share. The CDFJ started a campaign in 2015 under the title #Talking_is_not_a_crime in order to abolish Article 11; the campaign was sparked by the detaining of ten journalists and social media activists8. Members of the center and other journalists believed that the decision was nothing but a siege of freedom of those who were imprisoned.
Mansour mentioned that campaigns might be affective by allowing journalists to be able to express themselves freely. He believed that such campaigns will cause a revolution in the mindset of those who censor the news. Mansour was optimistic to a certain extent, however, the CDFJ had legal studies sent to the parliament and the government as to be taken into consideration as a part of the campaign and its project to affect change but it did not benefit in any way according to Mansour. This engagement has involved contacting an individual that has relevant interests as mine. I am now somehow comprehensive of the political issue that lies in this research. I realized that Nidal Mansour has used soft power throughout this interview; he had the capability of persuading me to believe that talking is not an actual crime. That when a person decides to speak up for what is going on surrounding him or her, it means that this person is definite that they are qualified enough and they have rights to inform the people of how they portray or perceive an individual or a given situation.
Moreover, my engagement activity also included going to the Jordan Press Association and interviewing the association’s elected President Rakan Al Saaideh. Mr. Saaideh discussed how the association has always fought for the rights of journalists that face judicial consequences that are considered unfair in any way, as the Jordan press association also did campaigns supporting the CDFJ campaign against article 11. Mr. Saaideh and other members of the JPA view article 11 as a violation of an important right (freedom to speech) hence its punishment is also considered very cruel and threatening to every journalist or press member. One of the JPA vast actions was in 2011; the JPA did one of the largest campaigns considering the press/journalism industry after they criticized the Prime Minister Marouf Bakhit due to an incident that happened in the areas of Al Karamah that commemorated the Palestanian “Nakba” catastrophe, the attack injured over 20 journalists. The JPA did an urgent meeting to take urgent decisions which included the campaign. Mr. Saaideh mentioned that those attacks were carried out to attack journalists and media from doing what their job requests and sharing the truth. The campaign stressed on mentioning that journalists have the right to share and discuss what they wish freely and independently. The government didn’t like the fuss that the journalists caused which made them take an action to silence them.
I also interviewed the politician/journalist “Raja Talab”, who is an ex-Minister of Labour and the editor in chief in the “Alrai newspaper” one of the largest newspapers in the region. Raja Talab is considered one of the most threatened politicians in the region after being threatened by governments such as Bashar al Assad’s government and also Mahmoud Abbas’s government. That is due to the fact that he used to mention how corrupt their regimes are and how much they are causing dilemmas and catastrophes to their citizens. Mr. Raja was threatened to be killed post sharing true information about both of these leaders and therefore, the government had to interfere to protect Mr. Raja from any future attacks.
This politician also discussed how he believes and thinks that it is always the right thing to take the countries’ stance before sharing anything for the public, because for the case of Jordan that seeks a lot for its strong relationship with its allies and the journalists in a small country like Jordan can easily threaten these relationships. And since each leader seeks to maintain a stabilized political environment within their countries, they are obliged to keep things diplomatic. For instance, the previous mentioned situation regarding the journalist Jamal Ayoub who was arrested for writing a column that critiqued Saudi Arabia’s bombing campaign in Yemen, could have caused a major weakening the relationship with Saudi Arabia or other allies.
C – Analysis of Issue
Hard and Soft Power theory is considered to be taken into consideration in Jordan as it is surely being practiced by authorities and government, this theory discusses how Jordan uses both sort of powers in its censorship. Hard power through the use of imprisonment and punishment of journalists whenever a critical or a sensitive topic is given in hand. As previously mentioned, the list of individuals that were either threatened or sentenced to jail have all gone through hard power consequences due to believing that they have freedom of speech and freedom of perceiving several situations in their own point of view.
On the contrary, Jordan has also used Soft Power in several areas. For example, Jordan has tried its best to persuade and convince people that such censorship of the news and what journalists decide to publish is due to the fact that they are seeking to maintain a safe atmosphere for its citizens. Forbidding any interference of third party that might cause any sort of discomfort or cut any diplomatic relationships.
It is clear how Jordan practices the Hard and Soft Power in its nation as a way to protect its nation and its citizens and as a way of maintaining peace, but it has many limitations including violating one of the UDHR articles which is article 19 stating “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.9” As the article states that everyone has the right to state his/her opinion through any type of media, adding to that the truth shouldn’t be kept away from people in anyway, those who cause any kind of corruption should face justice and should be exposed to the world.
D – Synthesis and Evaluation
In conclusion it is very obvious how censorship laws and publishing restrictions are just like hand cuffs for every journalist in Jordan. After conducting several interviews, I came to realize that campaigns were one of the ways to help and defend the rights of journalists allowing them to get rid of the restrictions that they were trapped in. However, truth be told, campaigns in Jordan have not reached the optimal goal of allowing freedom of speech. Censorship laws are still over ruling the majority of what is being published my journalists and on newspapers or any other social media. After the conducted research, I have also realized that the CDFJ and the JPA tried their best in defending what they believe is violations of their own rights, as also the reports done by the Human Rights Watch regarding Jordan’s practice of human rights kept on including and discussing that Jordan’s main issue is its censorship laws and violations of the deserved right “freedom of speech”, but until now those campaigns and reports submitted and performed by different parties had no effect on the authoritarian decision.
It is vital to take into consideration that Jordan truly follows and believes in Hard and Soft Power. It is either journalists abide the rules and regulations that are set by the government relating to censorship laws or they end up imprisoned. As far as I am concerned, using such a theory in politics and being able to create a balance between them is actually referred to as smart power. The Jordanian government is forbidding any further breaking of diplomatic relationships. I certainly agree that if the campaigns were led by a stronger force or a higher authority power, the amount of corruption will indeed decrease, the amount of frightened journalists would decline and they will not fear expressing their opinions. Which is what Jordanians thrive for. A life were freedom of speech overrules censorship.
7 (L. S. AlJazeera) (Institute)