Jordan- Activists urge Lower House to reject media law amendments

(MENAFN- Jordan Times) Scores of press freedom activists and online media practitioners on Wednesday staged a two-hour sit-in outside Parliament to protest against the government's proposed amendments to the Press and Publications Law. Holding banners denouncing the amendments, the protesters chanted slogans accusing the government of attempting to control the online media and urged the Lower House to reject the proposed amendments. "The government said that the law is in the hands of the deputies who can amend it, reject it or approve it. The government should have opened a dialogue with online media stakeholders before they sent it to Parliament, instead of trying to put the ball in the Lower House's court," Basel Okour, managing editor of the Ammonnews website, said at the demonstration. "Press freedom is an integral part of any reform process and is one of the most influential tools in addressing and exposing corruption. We call on Parliament to take the side of the freedom of the press, to reject the amendments, to refuse to be manipulated by the government, and to make its own stand as representatives of the public," he said. "If the government insists on this draft law, we will take escalatory measures to force them go back on their decision and stop targeting the online media." Musa Barhoumeh, a university professor, activist and news website owner, said the draft law reflected the authorities' intention to dominate and control the media. "The media in general and the online media in particular represent the eyes and the conscience of the public. Introducing laws that impose restrictions on its work will not succeed, especially as the online media is hard to control and will always find a way to the public's ears," said Barhoumeh, who previously served on the National Dialogue Committee and as editor-in-chief of Al Ghad. He added that the amendments, if endorsed, would be a setback to press freedoms and worsen the country's international reputation. Although some of the government's proposed changes to the law are positive, Barhoumeh said, others are repressive, such as giving prosecutors general and the director of the Press and Publications Department the authority to block news websites without a court order. Former overall leader of the Muslim Brotherhood Salem Falahat, who was present at the protest, said the public would not accept new limitations on press freedom. "The media is on the front lines in defending the interests of the state and the public. Imposing restraints on the media will only serve the corrupt and will lead to more frustration among the people, who have already lost their confidence in the government," the Islamist said. "Instead of inciting anger and frustration, the government should focus on addressing the most demanding economic, social and political problems as well as ensuring order and stability in the Kingdom," Falahat added. Ramtha MP Khaled Shaqran, who met with the protesters, expressed hope that the Lower House National Guidance Committee, to which the draft law was referred during Sunday's session, would either reject the law or at least amend the more controversial amendments. Vowing to sustain their activities should the amendments pass, Okour urged deputies to be decisive and reject the draft. "We will not stop until the oppressive amendments in the draft are removed," he said. Meanwhile, he said, hundreds of Jordanian websites are blacking out their homepages today to protest the amendments and raise awareness of the dangers they pose to press freedom. "Tonight, more than 500 websites will be showing a black page as a form of rejection of the draft law," he explained. "There will be other escalatory measures in the future to force the government to change its decision."

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