Journalism in Jordan: A Comparative Analysis of Press Freedom in the Post-Arab Spring Environment

By Duffy, Matt J.; Maarouf, Hadil | Global Media Journal, January 1, 2015 | Go to article overview

Journalism in Jordan: A Comparative Analysis of Press Freedom in the Post-Arab Spring Environment


Duffy, Matt J., Maarouf, Hadil, Global Media Journal


2. Introduction

As the Arab region erupted in protests in early 2011, the king of Jordan appeared to see the writing on the wall. He fired his cabinet and called for immediate changes in the organization of his government. King Abdullah II vowed the government would take "practical, swift and tangible steps to launch a real political reform process" including expanding public freedoms (Kadri & Bronner, 2011, para. 4). His statement acknowledged that one of the many grievances of Arab audiences was the ingrained censorship of both private and public media and other excessive limits placed on freedom of expression. Despite the promise to make changes, few observers would argue that the level of press freedom in Jordan has improved since 2011. In fact, many argue that Jordan has suppressed freedom of expression more since the Arab Spring, even though evidence shows that many populations are rejecting information from state-controlled entities in favor of more-free, digital forms of communication (el-Nawawy & Khamis, 2013; Howard & Hussain, 2013; Tufekci & Wilson, 2012; Youmans & York, 2012). Data from press freedom organizations support the observation that press freedom has gotten worse in Jordan (see figures 1 and 2.)

The paper examines the issues surrounding the press freedom environment in Jordan, particularly in the wake of the Arab Spring. After a literature review and theoretical grounding, the analysis focuses on events since 2011 to identify whether the government's pledges of increased freedoms have been carried out. Interviews with two practicing journalists in Jordan help expand on the analysis. The paper concludes with a comparative legal analysis between the approaches taken in Jordan to generally accepted principles of free expression. This comparison is a notable contribution to the literature because many critiques simply end with "governments shouldn't arrest journalists" but do not explain how other countries adjudicate similar circumstances. Every country in the world balances the need for freedom of expression against the need to maintain public order and protect reputations. This paper attempts to explain the approach that might be taken in more robust free speech environments.

3. Literature review

The benefits of a free press-particularly in democracies-are widely embraced in both academic research and conventional wisdom. The free press facilitates the flow of information between the government and the public, offers a forum for political discussion and deliberation, and watches out for abuses from powerful figures. Research has shown that an unfettered press bridges the divide between the government and its citizens (Besley, Burgess, & Prat, 2002), decreases corruption (Djankov, McLeish, Nenova, & Shleifer, 2002), encourages political participation (Leeson, 2008), fights extremism of religion (Amam, 2002), and facilitates economic growth (Roll & Talbott, 2003). Scholars at Pakistan's International Islamic University found that press freedom is linked with both economic growth and direct foreign investment (Alam & Ali Shah, 2013). To further the goals of a free press, media outlets must be allowed to examine and criticize officials and their actions and protected even if they publish incorrect information. For this reason, laws such as criminal defamation and prohibition of insults are generally disfavored because they impede the benefits of a free press by generally chilling speech (Buckley, Duer, Mendel, Price, & Raboy, 2008). Previous academic studies of Jordanian journalism and press freedom have found a complicated environment. Najjar (1998) examined the Jordanian press from 1985 to 1998 and discovered several expansions and retractions of press freedom over the years. He remained cautiously optimistic for greater freedoms despite a 1997 law that restricted speech. He pointed to independent judicial rulings as reason for hope. In his examination of the tabloid press in Jordan, Jones (2002) found these more-sensational media outlets to be both a sign of increasing liberalization as well as constant source of conflict and contention with the government. …

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