Jordan- 'Vague' press law amendments would harm ICT sector, experts warn

(MENAFN- Jordan Times) The ICT Association of Jordan (int@j) on Tuesday said the government's proposed amendments to the Press and Publications Law were vague and would harm the ICT sector, which contributes about 14 per cent annually to the country's economy. The association, which represents more than 400 ICT companies, said the "restrictive" amendments to the law would compel some companies to stop operations in Jordan, pushing the sector, which directly employs about 16,000 people, to the edge of collapse. "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," said Abed Shamlawi, CEO of int@j. The draft law amending the legislation, revealed by the government last month and is currently in the hands of the Lower House National Guidance Committee, would require websites that publish news, articles and comments related to Jordan's local or international affairs to register with the Press and Publications Department and receive licences. The draft law considers any comment published on a website to be "press material" and holds online publishers responsible for these comments. It also prohibits websites from publishing comments not relevant to the article under which they are published, and requires them to verify the information in a comment before publishing it. "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. "If the government wants to regulate online news, it should clearly refer to this in particular in the draft law, but the current draft is ambiguous." "The law will limit the development of digital content as sometimes there is information on blogs about Jordan that cannot be found on well-known news websites. The amendments will restrict user-generated content while not all bloggers who publish articles and allow comments on their blogs can register their sites," he noted. "Any measures that would lead to Internet censorship and limited freedoms of users on the Internet in Jordan will have a negative impact on Jordan's ability not only to attract investments, but also its ability to be able to retain current investments in the sector," the int@j CEO stressed. Wael Attili, creative founder of the Amman-based Kharabeesh Network which produces original animation videos, music productions, comedy shows and talk shows directed towards the Middle East and Arabs around the world, agreed with Shamlawi. "The law will keep investors away from Jordan because no investor would risk money in a market where there are restrictive laws," Attili said on Tuesday. "If somebody, for example, posts a comment on one of the videos on our website, we would be liable for it and that will affect our ability to attract investors," he told The Jordan Times over the phone. "If the amendments are endorsed, we - and I believe many other companies - will leave the Jordanian market. It is easier to go and open offices in Dubai, where the laws are not restrictive at all," Attili said. "The Internet world is an interactive world and imposing restrictions on IT companies will not make Jordan a competitive market in the region." Meanwhile, Shamlawi said the association had sent a letter to Lower House Speaker Abdul Karim Dughmi calling for rejecting the amendments and explaining the negative impact they would have on the ICT sector.

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