Freedom of speech is not freedom to incite hatred!
May S - 13/04/2012
A few months ago, a public opinion poll suggested that more than 50 % of Jordanians believed protests and demonstrations would lead to democracy in the Kingdom. A fewer number of Jordanians thought that protests would actually lead to civil strife. However, one of the main local news websites chose to feature the latter and wrote a headline that read “Jordanians believe protests will lead to civil strife”.
Not only did the editor choose to reach a biased conclusion, based on a flawed understanding of the poll, but he also justified choosing to feature what 40 % of Jordanians believed rather than what a greater number of citizens wanted to say. According to this editor, it is ‘just normal’ to publish a flawed headline, as long as it is ‘controversial’ and ‘can lead to a heated debate’.
It seems that is how he understood the basic principles of journalism, suggesting that the story is created when the ‘man bites the dog’ and not vice versa. The only problem is that he does not mind fabricating a story of a man who is biting a dog to get attention and neglects integrity and professionalism to give priority to ‘controversy’.
When a wikileaks document, in which Jordanian officials spoke about the ‘identity dilemma’ and the ‘alternative homeland’ issues to Western diplomats, was leaked and translated into Arabic, tens of local news websites reported on the document. The extensive coverage mentioned what Jordanians of one origin in specific told the diplomats and turned a completely blind eye to what their fellow Jordanians were also saying behind closed doors.
Unfortunately, the Jordanian electronic sphere has not brought about a value-added performance. On the contrary, one can safely assume that it is an extension of a biased, unprofessional and corrupt mainstream media. In fact, this hypothesis is further endorsed by the simple truth that the majority of the owners of these websites owned weekly newspapers, described in Jordan as a form of ‘yellow’ journalism .
The weekly newspapers, which mushroomed in the nineties of the last century, were known for their ‘pursuit of scandals’, even if that came at the expense of integrity and professionalism. As Mohammad Omar, a Jordanian journalist and editor, recalls, the weekly newspapers also tackled corruption and criticized the regime at a time when this practice was not trendy.
Too many weekly newspapers were licensed in the nineties, especially when a wave of journalists returned from the Gulf countries following the Second Gulf War or graduated from journalism schools. However, according to Omar, the straw that broke the camel’s back was when one newspaper published a socially unacceptable headline, featuring a study with sexual content.
This incident led the Islamist members of the Parliament then to demand a firm stance against these weeklies. As running weekly newspapers became costly, these same owners resorted to the Internet to practice their profession with only slight changes in the outlets.
Observers can easily guess the political affiliation of the owner of an electronic newspaper. It is easy to track the news and find out who the writers are attacking to identify the editorial policy and the people who are paying the owners behind closed doors. The real tragedy began when bribes became acceptable and closed doors became unnecessary.
The local sphere is filled with journalists who are paid by different politicians to promote their views and defend them before the public opinion. A recent list, which came to be known as the 51-list, divulged the names of 51 journalists who were paid by former head of intelligence Mohammad Ad-dahabi who is currently facing charges of corruption and money laundering.
Stories are abundant about journalists with inner sources and connections within the governmental body who have access to information and use it to blackmail businessmen and politicians. These are just a few examples of rampant corruption in what should be the ‘fourth estate’ of Jordan, contributing to the country’s growing dilemmas.
Personally, I find it repulsive when editors of electronic newspapers also choose to selectively respect freedom of speech. I can recall several incidents where the phrase ‘no comments are accepted on the content above’ was written after a news story, while thousands of repulsive and discriminatory comments were published on other stories.
It is indeed a tough question, when an editor has to respect freedom of speech and ensure that it does not lead to hatred, discrimination or racism. However, once you decide to stick to a policy, it becomes obligatory to abide by this policy with all content. What has often happened is that editors have chosen certain items and allowed racist comments, while they have banned comments on other stories that could have led to unsolicited trouble with the state and the security forces in particular.
I have always believed that a large part of our problems in this country is attributed to both electronic and print media. Very few initiatives have seen the light to change the status quo and create a professional unbiased alternative.
Some of these initiatives have already been aborted, while others are slowly growing with the efforts of dedicated individuals.