Internet Policy Regulation and Censorship in Jordan

Jordan is listed as engaged in selective Internet filtering in the political area and as showing no evidence of filtering in the social, conflict/security, and Internet tools areas by the Open Net Initiative (ONI) August 2009.

Internet censorship in Jordan is relatively light, with filtering selectively applied to only a small number of sites. Fayez Al Shawabkeh (Head of Jordanian Press and Publication) has issued orders to the Telecommunication Regulatory Commission (TRC) with a list of over 300 websites to be blocked in the Kingdom. In turn, the TRC commissioner has sent the list to the country’s various Internet Service Providers, demanding the blocking to be implemented by the end of the day, Sunday, June 2nd, 2013.[5]

However, media laws and regulations encourage some measure of self-censorship in cyberspace. Citizens have reportedly been questioned and arrested for Web content they have authored. Internet censorship in Jordan is mainly focused on political issues that might be seen as a threat to national security due to the nation's close proximity to regional hotspots of Israel, Iraq, Lebanon, and the Palestinian territories.[6]

In April 2014, parliament passed a new amendment to its 2006 anti-terror law – the new bill lists “disturbing [Jordan’s] relations with a foreign state” as a terrorist crime. As a result, Jordan falls on a scale degrees of freedom the Internet for the current year.

However on 15 February 2015, a court in Jordan sentenced a Muslim Brotherhood leader to 18 months in prison on Sunday for criticizing the United Arab Emirates on social media. Zaki Bani Rashid, deputy general of the Muslim Brotherhood in Jordan, was initially sentenced to three years in prison, which was later reduced to 18 months with hard labor. Jordan’s state security court in the capital Amman found 57-year-old Rashid guilty of “souring ties with a partner country” after he criticized the UAE, a key ally of Jordan, on Facebook late last year.

Jordanian authorities have to encourage a civil society organization specialized in Internet rights to stand for the journalist, bloggers and social media users to write what they want and to reach any Internet content they need without interfering them. Civil society should be engaged with government in making decisions related to Internet policy, as well as increase the citizen awareness related to Internet rights.

The government is responsible for making decisions and policy regulation. However NGO's and the private sector are not involved in such a process. Also, there's no NGO that specializes in Internet governance or any organized awareness for citizens to the regulation of Internet policy from the government side and its effect on the Internet content in general.

Based on a research conducted by 7iber about ‘Controlling the Online Media in Jordan,’ it shows that it is possible for government in Jordan according to legal systems such as Brazil, Finland, South Africa and Argentina to protect against the dangers posed by illegal online content (such as defamation, incitement to violence and violations of personal privacy) without the need for restrictions that strangle online media. [7]

According to this research  "None of these countries requires websites to be licensed." "Online media regulation is not primarily a technocratic issue, but an ideological one. It is no coincidence that in all four of the countries studied, the constitution makes strong legal guarantees for freedom of expression. Jordan’s constitution, on the other hand, pays lip service to the idea of freedom of expression yet allowing for laws to place any limit on this freedom seen fit."

This research illustrates two dimensions of policy requirements in order to effectively protect online media freedom:
1.    A robust and progressive normative framework that protects freedom of expression. Such framework can be generic and applicable to all mediums of freedom expression as is the case in South Africa. Alternatively, it can have specific provisions designed to elaborate on what freedom of expression means in the era of the Internet, as is the case in Argentina and Brazil. In the case of Finland, the ostensibly medium-neutral Freedom of Expression in Mass Media Act applies to all types of media, however, its details make many provisions related to changes in mass media that have resulted from the rise of the Internet. Thus, the Finnish model is actually closer to the model seen in Argentina and Brazil. The best practice examples reviewed in this study are those from Brazil and Finland.
2.    A progressive co-regulatory system of governance. Such a system:
       o Ensures safe harbor for intermediaries;
       o Involves various stakeholders in the mechanisms for developing policies and regulations;
       o Does not place onerous restrictions on the operation of online media outlets;
       o Requires court-issued orders for takedown and blocking;
Again, the best practice examples reviewed in this study are those from Brazil and Finland, although the voluntary mechanism for press regulation in South Africa is also worth studying. Moreover, the planned Internet governance reforms in Argentina seem promising and are worth monitoring over the coming several years.
I recommended three points to the Internet Policy in Jordan to protect online media freedom:
1.    The Government of Jordan undertakes legal reforms to put in place a robust and progressive normative framework that protects freedom of expression that takes into account changes in mass media that have resulted from the rise of the Internet (whether through an ‘Internet Bill of Rights’ as in Brazil, or generic legislation that is sensitive to the realities of modern media as in Finland).
2.    The Government of Jordan undertakes legal reforms to ensure safe harbor for intermediaries, except where they fail to implement court-issued takedown or blocking orders.
3.     The Government of Jordan develops strong mechanisms to ensure that all stakeholders are involved in developing Internet policies and regulations. Relevant stakeholders include ISPs, content providers, representatives of journalistic professions, academics, internet experts and representatives of the public. Importantly, clear and transparent procedures and criteria must be put in place for selection of stakeholder representatives. The most inclusive and transparent method for selecting specialists and representatives of the public would be an open advertisement for applications to these positions, combined with a selection process based on publicly available, predetermined criteria.
Finally, although the state of press and online media freedom in Jordan at some points had one of the most vocal media in the Arab World, but a series of laws restricted the online freedom expression. But we all hoped that Jordan will take a forward step to protect media freedom and freedom of expressions again.

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Doaa Kanan (Jordan) Women's Rights and Online Freedom activist, Researcher, AIESEC Alumni and a Founder of YU Google Club.