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Jordan: Arab Spring clears way for press freedoms

Monday - 5/20/2013, 1:06pm  ET

FILE -- In this Thursday Sept. 29, 2011 file photo, Jordanian journalists protest in front the Jordanian House of Parliament, symbolically wearing tape over their mouths, as they protest over proposed changes to the anti-corruption law they believe will muzzle press freedoms, in Amman, Jordan. Jordan’s prime minister Abdullah Ensour told a meeting of the Geneva-based International Press Institute (IPI) that Jordan has “come a long way” in improving both legislation governing press freedoms and the standards of a national media still reeling under long years of state censorship. Nidal Mansour, head of the Amman-based Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists --IPI’s hosting partner -- said that the press law enacted last year was designed to muzzle press freedoms. (AP Photo/Mohammad Hannon, File)

JAMAL HALABY
Associated Press

AMMAN, Jordan (AP) -- The Arab Spring uprisings that toppled four Arab leaders have forced Mideast governments to allow more freedom of expression and of the press, Jordan's prime minister said Monday, but critics charged that Jordan itself is not doing enough.

Abdullah Ensour told a meeting of the Vienna-based International Press Institute, "The past few years have been very crucial to our region, because the Arab Spring has opened new horizons and created more demands" for wider freedoms of expression and the press.

Ensour said Jordan has "come a long way" in improving legislation governing press freedoms after many years of strict state censorship of media outlets.

"Obviously, we're not yet where we want to be, but we are determined to continue," he said.

Jordanian participants at the conference complained that the country's media law, significantly restricting press freedoms by imposing harsh penalties on violators, forces journalists to practice self-censorship.

Nidal Mansour, head of the Amman-based Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists -- IPI's hosting partner -- said that the press law updated last year was designed to muzzle press freedom.

"The Press and Publication Law has been and continues to be a sword on the necks of all journalists in Jordan," he said. The law has been amended at least seven times in 10 years.

The latest legislation requires websites dealing with vaguely defined "press materials" to register with the Department of Press and Publication, once officially called the Censorship Department, and pay a fee of $1,400 (1,000 Jordanian dinars). Websites are also required to appoint a Jordanian chief editor who would be held accountable for all online content, including comments posted by readers.

Under the law, the director of the Department of Press and Publication has the authority to block websites, including those originating from abroad, if they are deemed in violation of the law.

Since the Arab Spring uprisings, Jordan's government has appeared to ease restrictions on freedom of expression, opinion and assembly. It has allowed protests to take place without seeking prior permission from the government. However, other constraints remain, including a ban on criticizing the king in public, punishable by up to three years in jail. King Abdullah II holds final authority in most matters.

While the government approved a code of conduct several years ago with the intention of fostering a "free and independent media," journalists are still closely watched by intelligence agencies and often report harassment and threats.
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