To a great extent the new phenomenon of internet-based news websites in Jordan has been the subject of rising suspicion from the side of the regime in Jordan. Online internet content began to be considered as a threat, especially after internet users started to publish information on institutional corruption, nepotism and online-offline human rights violations that raised anger among Jordanian citizens. Before the Arab revolutions there were many attempts to control content on online media, but after the regime have managed to survive the 2011 local and regional protests, the government in Jordan has put all its efforts into limiting online media dissent.
Since 2013 upwards, it seems that the regime did manage to use international fears about the need for the state to raise security measures to fight against terrorism. The state took steady measures that led to tame online freedom based news websites that belong to many international organizations, including Reporters Without Borders. The latest report revealed that Jordan is among the countries in the lowest ranks on the list of countries dealing with online freedom of speech.(1)
The past decade was considered the golden age for online media in Jordan. Since 2005, e-journalism websites have gained a very strong standing while working without the heavy burden of too many employees and journalists. They concentrated their investigations on news that can't be published in the daily official or semi-official newspapers.
They began also to cover the news of the labor strikes, which had been just growing at that time. Eventually they became a real headache for the government. A very famous labor leader, Mohammad Al Snaid, said that these websites were the only window for Jordanian people to express their rising anger. 2)
In 2010, it was so hard for the Prime Minister, Samir Al Refai, to take any legal measures against the emerging news websites that could also threaten the whole state press sector. He then had the full support of the palace. Still, he could not propose a new law with the intention to control online media. He even was heavily verbally attacked to an unprecedented level. He was targeted as a press enemy. Online media websites put his picture in an aggressive logo over all news websites (3). They managed to shake the government. Ultimately, he postponed the new legislation.
In fact, the first government that tried to monitor online news websites was the government of Nader Al Dhahabi. It was followed by Al Refai, who couldn't achieve this level of surveillance. The criticism of the governmental intentions came from inside and outside Jordan. The critics mainly noticed the legal convictions that the suggested legislation imposed on the journalists and media users. The Minister of Media and Telecommunications, Ali Al Ayed, said that the government has amended its proposal after taking into consideration consultancy from media institutions and human rights organizations. (4)
Soon his government was swept away by the Jordanian version of the Arab revolutions and uprisings. It was not only the government that was swept way, but also so many of the taboos that dominated the press. During the first few months of 2011 and later up to the end of 2012 one could see almost all the slogans from the demonstrations on the news websites, sometimes with videos. Many international media began to use videos, pictures and information from the Jordanian news websites.
But the following governments continued trying to impose some constraints to slow down the flood of unwanted news and reports that made a huge embarrassment to the regime. To tell the truth, many Jordanians think that the e-journalism sector has its mistakes and negatives. Blackmail, character assassination, copy-and-paste, and false stories, among others, are those that have been pointed out many times.
But the character-assassination did not end, says Basil Okoor, publisher of jo24, one of the famous Jordanian news websites. Blackmail and character assassination were only a pretext for the government to amend the press law, says Ockoor. He adds that the goal of the amendments is to put a sword just over journalists.” (5)
The resistance was strong. The websites together took so many stands and completed marches; they even held an internet black-out, causing a huge media response all over the world (6). But the ending was not happy.
The government did a good job, indeed. During the years 2010-2013 there were tens of incidents where journalists were hit hard by police and pro-regime activists, and many cases where journalists were sent to the military state security court.
The majority of them were from the e-press sector. The new amended law that has come into effect in 2013 did not stop the journalists from being sent to the state security court. In fact, it increased the constraints on journalists. One of the most criticized amendments was giving the authorities the power to ban any Jordanian website that does not have a license.
To have a license, the website must have a editor-in-chief who is a member in the Jordanian Press Association, for which membership is very hard to get. As a result, the websites have to pay a high salary to an unneeded staff member, despite the fact that many websites suffer from very low revenue. In addition, many of the association's members would not agree to head a problematic news website, nor would they like to have problems with the government on the basis of a piece of news.
It is good to remember that a website like Google has been sent to court in Jordan and was threatened to be banned inside Jordan (7).Although the ones who sued Google were individuals, not governmental, online media journalists feel depressed, constrained, and not safe. So they simply hardly think about writing something“problematic”.
The regime managed to use terrorism phobia and did all that it needed to suppress dissent, knowing that many western governments will close their eyes and not see these violations. Through the“Terrorism prevention”law, the government can send any journalist to prison.
In fact, the government did send a very famous Islamic opposition leader to jail because of what he has published on his page on Facebook. Today, after 10 years of the noticeable rise of the e-journalism in Jordan, and after 5 years since the peak of it, it is obvious that online press is getting weaker and weaker. Today it is almost impossible to see an article or story or piece of news that can be compared to those published in 2010 and 2011.