The New Arab Censors

AMMAN – The Internet has proved to be a powerful tool for overcoming media restrictions and censorship worldwide. But new restrictions on Web-based news media, such as those in Jordan, threaten to reverse the progress that the Internet has enabled.

For example, the tendency of Arab countries’ media to discuss issues concerning other countries more freely than those affecting their own has long impeded citizens’ ability to keep abreast of domestic affairs. Amin.org – the Arab world’s first censorship-free Web site, which I established in 1996 – addressed the problem by giving people access to information and commentary from foreign publications about domestic issues and events.

Four years later, at a time when Jordanians could access primarily government-owned radio stations, plus a few foreign stations, I launched AmmamNet.net, an Internet radio station that broadcast news and commentary from Jordan to the rest of the world. While Jordan later loosened official restrictions on audio-visual media, AmmanNet continued to deliver high-quality independent news and commentary.

But, under orders from senior government officials, the Jordanian Press and Publications Department recently blocked nearly 300 news Web sites. The decision was based on a controversial law that, among other things, requires any Web site publishing news and commentary about Jordan to appoint an editor from the closed journalists’ union, which electronic-media journalists cannot join, and to be licensed by a government body.