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Draft Press and Publications Law raises concerns

(ARTICLE 19/IFEX) - The following is a 3 November 2005 ARTICLE 19 press release:

DRAFT JORDANIAN PRESS LAW RAISES CONCERNS

ARTICLE 19 recently released an analysis of the 2004 draft Jordanian Press and Publications Law (1), which highlights a number of areas where the draft law violates international law. The existing Press and Publications Law (2) is even more problematical and needs to be significantly reworked if the Kingdom is to deliver its stated goals of modernisation and democratisation.

The new draft Press and Publications Law (PPL) was released in 2004, the latest of a line of such laws since 1993, all of which have failed to guarantee press freedom. Although the 2004 draft represents an incremental improvement over the existing law, the ARTICLE 19 analysis concludes that it falls far short of the substantial overhaul which would be necessary to bring Jordan into line with international standards on freedom of expression.

On the positive side, the draft PPL abolishes arrest and imprisonment for press crimes, reduces the number of restrictions on the content of what may be published and eliminates the possibility of closure of publications as a criminal sanction. These amendments address some concerns expressed in earlier commentaries by ARTICLE 19.

At the same time, although the new draft PPL includes a commitment to respect freedom of the press, many of its provisions provide for the regulation and control of the press. Journalists are required to become members of the Jordan Journalists' Association, rendering them vulnerable to pressure from that body. Those wishing to establish a publication must pass several bureaucratic hurdles, such as obtaining a licence, demonstrating substantial capital reserves and appointing managers or editors with academic qualifications. Vague content restrictions are another recurring feature in this draft, including a criminally enforceable duty to respect the "values of the Arab and Islamic nation" and to report in a "balanced, objective, and honest" manner.

Most established democracies have demonstrated their commitment to press freedom by abolishing press laws where they existed, placing the sector on the same legal footing as any other industry. A decision by the Jordanian authorities to follow suit would give important impetus to its political development and set a positive example for the region.

NOTES TO EDITORS

1. Available at http://www.article19.org/pdfs/analysis/jordan-prs-2004.pdf. Discussion of the new draft by the Jordanian parliament was recently postponed by the King until January 2006.
2. The present Press and Publications Law dates from September 1999.

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