INDEPENDENT JOURNALISTS AND ACTIVISTS MEET IN JORDAN TO DISCUSS FREE EXPRESSION IN THE MIDDLE EAST AND NORTH AFRICA
IFEX members and prospective members discussed how to improve the flow of information on free expression in the MENA region and internationally. A consensus was reached that IFEX should direct an initiative to coordinate free expression activities in the region, relying on the participation of local groups and journalists. Regional efforts to promote free expression are already underway but it was felt that IFEX was in the position to coordinate such an effort. An informal coalition was formed by the groups, whose representatives committed to informing each other of free expression incidents in the region and develop links with other journalists and activists, particularly in countries that were not represented at the session. Participants also discussed the idea of enhanced training and support for independent media, in addition to cross-cultural initiatives. Efforts to document free expression violations such as repressive media laws and attacks on journalists and writers were discussed. Participants promoted the idea of publishing such information on the Internet and through studies and books. The importance of promoting access to communications and the free expression of women and minorities such as the Kurdish people or Persian-speaking people in the region was also noted.
At the day-long session on Jordan, participants agreed to a resolution outlining steps the government of Jordan should follow to bring the country's "law and practice into line with international standards," such as revoking the Press and Publications Law of 1998 (as amended in 1999). Other repressive measures binding journalists in Jordan include mandatory membership in the Jordan Press Association and government control of Jordan Television and Radio. The resolution also requested that the government guarantee access to information and bring the country into line with international standards of law promoting free expression. At an audience with His Majesty King Abdullah at the Royal Palace, the King committed himself to improving free expression in Jordan and to leading the way in the region in promoting such democratic values. The King pointed out that Jordan has opened a free zone for media which allows broadcasters in the region to go on the air without restrictions as a demonstration of his commitment.
During the conference on "Media and Democracy in the Arab World", participants discussed the lack of culture in the region which tolerates a free media and freedom of expression. Palestinian journalist Daoud Kuttab called for journalists to be brave and take up the challenge of promoting free expression and democracy, using new technologies such as the Internet to challenge restrictions. Iranian journalist Faraj Sarkohi noted that the small private publications need financial support to keep publishing in the face of repression, and called for international support for independent writers.