There is no doubt the role of media has been profound leading up to and in shaping the Arab Spring. Despite authoritarian media legislation, lack of professionalism and self-censorship among journalists in Jordan, the media landscape is rapidly transforming due to the mass digitization of information.
With the introduction of satellite television in the country during the 1990’s, Jordanians turned to more western and pan-Arab regional media outlets such as Al-Jazeera and Al-Arabiya. This has prompted the local media industry, already held back by tight government regulation and budget constraints, to boost its services in order to compete over its viewership. Local television stations were forced to focus on the audience it still had, consisting mostly of Jordanians living in villages and governorates outside of the capital Amman.
Despite the recent establishment of local channels like Roya television and Nourmina, local television in Jordan remains the only segment that has not developed and most Jordanians (96.5 percent of them have satellite reception) depend on the free-to-air sector, with close to 600 channels available for free on satellite.
Before the boom of the free-to-air television, however, terrestrial television was the main source of entertainment and information. A study conducted in 2008 found that 52.2 percent of Jordanians watched JTV for news. The study also revealed that the population’s satisfaction of the programs of the JTV was 1.49 out of 3.
Newspapers have also been forced to focus on feature stories and provide analysis in Jordan because of satellite television, social media and local news websites that focus on national coverage, including in areas that were once ignored.
Technological advancements and what seems to be a steady, yet slow reduction in the price of Internet access have altered the traditional media sector. As Internet penetration reached 55.9 percent with about 3.535 million users by mid 2012, news websites began rising up the list of top visited websites in the country, as indicated by Alexa.com. As of April 2013, the two widely read news websites in Jordan are Garaa News and Saraya News, rated 7th and 9th most visited websites in the country respectively.
This has impacted the status of print newspapers as the main source of news consumption, as more people are turning online to access news and participate through posting comments and sharing links on social networking sites. However, it has not discouraged new players in the industry. During the past decade, various new local outlets, such as Roya TV and Al Ghad newspaper, have been established providing an alternative source of information and news for Jordanians.
That said, concerns are rising over the proliferation of news websites and other electronic media outlets that are giving rise to a dilution of professionalism among journalists, making their work less credible. Echoing that view, a study by the Centre for Defending Freedom for Journalists concluded, “beyond any doubt” this sector of journalism in Jordan “is experiencing a serious and severe crisis from the professionalism point of view.”
Self-censorship, though declined after the Arab Spring by ten percentage points, remains a main hindrance in the advancement of the press in Jordan. The Media Freedom Status survey, conducted in Jordan in 2010 by the Centre for Defending Freedom of Journalists, revealed that 97 percent of a group of 505 Jordanian journalists participating in the survey, avoid writing about or broadcasting issues related to the armed forces. Discussing issues related to judiciary authorities and security agencies ranked as the second most avoided topic. Other topics that are avoided by journalists include the criticizing of religion, religious figures and tribal leaders.
In 2010, 94 percent of Jordanian journalists surveyed said they practice self-censorship. In 2011, self-censorship among journalists declined to 86 per cent driven by the Arab Spring, according to a recent study on the status of press freedom by Al Quds Centre for Political Studies, an independent research center.
As a result of general legal restrictions imposed on freedom of speech, self-censorship continues to be largely practiced on the Internet by citizens, bloggers and journalists writing for news websites. The 2011 uprisings that have swept the region have raised the bar of crossing the so-called ‘red lines’ — writing about topics viewed as taboo in society—religion, leadership and sensitive social issues.
However, this is not to be considered an improvement in media freedom where Jordan has been cited as dropping eight spots on the Press Freedom Index in 2012. Press and publication laws and the penal code pose concerns related to the hindrance of press freedom, independence and protection. As it stands, the press laws largely punish journalists instead of protecting them.
The changing media landscape, like the Middle East region itself, continues to reflect the profound uncertainty and the rapid transformation that is sweeping the region. For Jordan, this means that the government, journalists and citizens will continue in the coming decade to adjust to new trends as technological advancements promise alternative, more interactive ways in news consumption.