(MENAFN - Jordan Times) The government on Wednesday disputed claims that the draft amendments to the Press and Publications Law, currently in the hands of the Senate, would have a negative impact on investments in the ICT sector.
Last Tuesday, the ICT Association of Jordan (int@j) warned that the "restrictive" amendments would drive some companies out of Jordan, severely damaging the sector, which directly employs some 16,000 people and is responsible for 14 per cent of the Kingdom's gross domestic product.
"Several local and international IT companies are already thinking of leaving the Jordanian market and moving their offices abroad because of these amendments, to which they object," Abed Shamlawi, CEO of int@j, said last week.
In a statement to The Jordan Times on Wednesday, Minister of State for Media Affairs and Communications Samih Maaytah dismissed this allegation, noting that print and audiovisual media have been operating under the current law for many years with no impact on investments in this industry.
"Generally speaking, laws are introduced to streamline things and put them in perspective. The new amendments to the Press and Publications Law do not target or aim to control the media or undermine its freedom. It was only necessary to ensure abidance with professionalism and the ethics of the profession," the minister said.
"The claims that the amendments would cause damage to investments in the ICT sector is unrealistic," Maaytah said, adding that the amendments exclusively refer to news websites concerned with publishing local and international news, investigations, articles and comments.
"Non-news electronic media such as blogs and social media tools will not be included," he said, adding that concerned parties should look in depth at the content of the legislation, which he said clearly identifies its objectives, rather than prejudging it.
Maaytah's statement was in response to stakeholders in the media and ICT sectors, as well as press freedom advocates, who have criticised the law for being vague about its jurisdiction.
"The draft law does not clearly refer to news websites. It refers only to websites, and this may include blogs, websites of companies, websites created by individuals, and simply anything that is online," Shamlawi said last week.
The international watchdog group Human Rights Watch expressed similar concerns over the law's reach in a statement issued this Monday.
"The dangers the proposed law poses to online expression arise from its vague definition of 'electronic publications' that would be subject to the law, new executive power to block websites and unreasonable restrictions on online content, including comments posted by website users," the group said.
The exact text of the amendments proposed by the government states: "If an electronic publication's activity includes publishing news, investigative reports, articles, and comments related to the internal or external affairs of the Kingdom, this publication must register and acquire a licence under a decision by the director [of the Press and Publications Department] and the owner of the electronic publication must rectify his status in accordance with this law within no less than 90 days."
Maaytah defended the amendments further by saying that they were meant to "protect" journalists rather than restrict their work.
"The aim of the new amendments is to protect the media from intruders to the profession," the minister said. "Also, journalists working in the electronic media will be protected under the law since they will be held accountable under the Press and Publications Law instead of the Penal Code as is currently the case."
The Lower House passed the controversial amendments on Tuesday with minor changes, and the Senate's Legal Affairs Committee began discussing them on Wednesday.
While lawmakers were discussing the law, dozens of journalists gathered near Parliament, calling on the deputies to reject the bill. They later described the endorsement of the amendments as a return to the martial law era.
The Lower House National Guidance Committee endorsed the draft amendments earlier this week, limiting the jurisdiction to block licensed websites to the judicial authority, but granting the Press and Publications Department the authority to block any unlicensed website.
But lawmakers did not make any other major changes to the law, approving most of the amendments.
Under the amendments, online media will be required to register and obtain licences from the department, with registration fees lowered from JD10,000 to JD1,000.
The bill also holds publishers of online media outlets accountable for any comments their readers post under published articles.
In addition, news websites will be prohibited from publishing comments not relevant to the published article, and all comments must be archived for a period of no less than six months.