Jordan blocks 'unlicensed' national news websites

By Dale Gavlak
BBC News, Amman

Image source, Reuters
Image caption, Critics say the new law is an attack on freedom of speech in Jordan

The Jordanian government says it has blocked more than 300 unregistered and unlicensed news websites in a bid to curb "sensationalised" reporting.

The Press and Publications Department said access to 304 domestic online sites had been cut.

Another 102 sites remain accessible because they were licensed or seeking registration, it said.

The department said a law had set a January 2013 deadline for site owners to "rectify their situation."

But a number of the news website said they did not register with the department to protest against amendments to the controversial 2012 law, calling it "a government-led effort to restrict free speech online."

Registering and obtaining a department licence, they argue, places them in the same strait-jacket that governs the kingdom's print media which is often viewed as practising self-censorship.

"The preconditions in the law were impossible to implement because Jordan's press syndicate refused to accept electronic press as part of its members," said Jordanian political analyst Labib Kamhawi.

"So how could they abide by the law's requirement that their editors-in-chief must be syndicate members?"

Critics also say the law unfairly holds online news sites accountable for readers' comments and requires them to archive all readers' comments for at least six months.

Hashem Khalidi, chief editor of the blocked SarayaNews, accused the government of having "zero tolerance" and "wanting to silence everyone" with the ban.

Information Minister Mohammad al-Momani argued that the government had a "moral obligation" to protect minority and individuals rights.

A free, independent national media is part of Jordan's reform strategy, he told the Associated Press, saying that Jordan sought the "highest standards of professionalism and credibility".

"What we will not allow is conducting personal attacks against individuals, or attacks against any groups or minorities," he added.

But Naseem Tarawnah, who blogs on his Black Iris of Jordan site, sees Jordan's media laws as designed to "create an environment of fear that encourages self-censorship" which will now expand to online content.

"It's easy to enact a law that is very biased and then accuse people of not implementing it," said analyst Labib Kamhawi.

"How can you reconcile what King Abdullah says about democracy and the rule of law, and what is happening to freedom of speech," he asked.

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