The Center for Defending the Freedom of Journalists [CDFJ] has stressed that the government’s press and publications draft law, which was earlier submitted to the Parliament, is not in harmony with the international standards of media freedom as it still contains articles that restrict the press freedom.
The center called on the Parliament’s National Guidance Committee during a meeting with the committee members to review the draft law and amend its articles so that media institutions can guarantee a cotemporary law -- one that reflects Jordan’s democratic image, upholds the freedom of expression, and realizes His Majesty King Abdallah’s aspirations for “a freedom of expression as high as the sky.”
The center noted that it conducted an in-depth study of the draft law. The study, which includes a comprehensive review of all articles that impose shackles on the media freedom, will be handed to the chairman of the National Guidance Committee.
During the meeting, the center called on all journalists and media freedom advocates to aid one another and act jointly in order to not squander another opportunity for endorsing laws that support and uphold freedoms.
The center’s director, Nidal Mansour, reviewed during the meeting the major loopholes and shackles that are still available in the draft law submitted by the government and the Press and Publications Law No 8 for the year 1998 and its amendments as follows:
First: Apprehending Journalists
The amended draft law submitted by the government as well as the Press and Publications Law No 8 for the year 1998 and its amendments do not prohibit the apprehension of journalists against the backdrop of press and publications cases, especially in the cases that fall under the jurisdiction of the State Security Court. This is because the State Security Court is governed by a special law that defines its jurisdictions and has a priority over other laws when it comes to implementation according to the Jordanian Court of Cassation.
Second: Imprisonment of Journalists in Press and Publication Cases
The government’s amended draft law does not prohibit the imprisonment of journalists although Item 7 of Article 30 provides for prohibiting the imprisonment sentence as a result of expressing one’s opinion either verbally or in writing or by any other means of expression. Yet, the draft law stipulates the necessity of observing the provisions of the effective legislation. Hence, the draft law does not prohibit the imprisonment sentence as it is enshrined in other laws, such as the Penal Code, the Law on Protecting the State’s Secrets and Classified Information. The same holds true under the Press and Publications Law No 8 for the year 1998.
Third: Journalists Appearance before the State Security Court and Public Prosecution in Cases under the Jurisdiction of the State Security Court
The government’s amended draft law does not prevent the State Security Court from looking into the press and publications cases, owing to the presence of Article 3 of the Law of the State Security Court which places many press and publication cases under the jurisdiction of the court. This means that journalists will be subjected to the public prosecution procedures of the State Security Court.
Fourth: Journalist Appearance before Courts throughout the Trial Period
The government’s amended draft law does not prevent the appearance of journalists before courts during the trial procedures because the legal text streamlining this issue -- Article 30, Provision Seven -- grants this right to the court. This legal text is not new as it exists in Article 168 of the existing Jordanian Law of Summary Procedures. However, it is enforced only in the crimes that are punishable by fine. However, this is not the case with the crimes of publications contrary to the Penal Code and the Law on Violating Courts.
Fifth: Multiplicity of Laws according to Which Journalists are Prosecuted in Press and Publication Cases
The government’s amended draft law does not prevent the enforcement of more than a law in press and publication cases, especially the Penal Code. So, journalist in Jordan can be tried under more than one law, mostly under the Press and Publication Law and the Penal Code.
Sixth: Journalists’ Right to Access and obtain Information from Its Source and Circulate it
The government’s amended draft law does not allow journalists to obtain information from its sources, especially since Article 5 takes into consideration the legislation related to secrecy when divulging information. In fact, there are many shackles restricting journalists’ access to information, such as the Law on Protecting the State’s Secrets and Classified Information.
Seventh: The Freedom to Issue Newspapers and Work in the Press Domain
The government’s draft law imposes restrictions on the exercise of press work. It made the exercise of the press profession conditional on joining the Press Association. It also still enforces the prior licensing of newspapers, a procedure that is no longer valid in the democratic states.
Eighth: The draft law submitted by the government expands the circle of incrimination in the press and publication cases. It added new incriminatory texts to the Press and Publication Law No 8 for the year 1998 that never existed before while these same texts are existent in the Penal Code. It also used vague phrases with broad meanings that have not specific reference. This entails that journalists might be subjected a multiplicity of penalties, notwithstanding the fact that the law enforces the most stringent penalty.
Ninth: The government’s draft law imposes more censorship on the resources of the newspapers by increasing the financial penalties. Article 3 of the recently amended draft law provides for increasing the fine from 100 dinars to 5,000 dinars if the owner of the publication fails to provide the minister with a copy of its annual budget during the first four months of the next year. Moreover, the minister or anyone acting on his behalf has the right to learn about the financial resources.
Tenth: The government’s amended draft law expanded the circle of penalties in the press and publication cases. In addition to expanding the circle of incrimination by adding new texts that relied on flexible and stretchy phrases such as “offending the feelings of, arousing sentiments, creating grudges, sowing the seeds of hatred,” it set hefty financial penalties by making the minimum penalty 15,000 dinars and the maximum 20,000 dinars. On the other hand, it replaced the financial penalty for violating the provisions of the Press and Publication Law, which are not covered by any legal text and which are the most frequent cases in courts, from 100 dinars to 3,000 dinars.