Social media uproar after Jordan bans news sites

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“It's 2013 and the discussion about #blockingwebsites and laws restricting our freedom is taking us only further backwards,” wrote one Jordanian tweeter after the government moved to block 290 news websites. The move has led to outraged protest both on and off-line

Explaining the decision, a government official said the sites were in breach of the new Press and Publications law. This requires on-line newscasters to register for a license and subjects them to the same regulations as newspapers and other print publications. The new law also requires that on-line editors-in-chief must be members of the government-approved Syndicate of Journalists. The law was passed a year ago but the Department of Press and Publication had given the sites an extra six months to comply.

Protest and programmes
The decision to block 290 news sites (out of 400) came as a shock to social media activists who joined with journalists and other media professionals in a demonstration outside parliament to protest against the harsh conditions imposed on these sites.

One journalist wrote on his Facebook page: “I agree with registering the news sites, but not with the obligatory license or restrictive conditions like the one stating that the editor-in-chief should be a member of the syndicate. But every website should have someone in charge, an office and contact details in order to be held accountable for any mistakes.”

Some critics were more defiant asking: “Why should we care about them blocking our websites? There are a million ways to get around it!” Activists also used social media to share different proxy server programmes to break the block, as well as books explaining how to avoid Internet censorship. Others though were more pessimistic and warned that the use of these programmes is considered illegal.

A stupid decision
“Don't be upset,” one Facebook user wrote. “It's a stupid decision and there are
plenty of ways around it like transferring the content of the websites to social networks, or using a different proxy server. What’s more important is the mentality that is ruling this country and how it harms its people.

The same user wondered whether the government would be able to control mobile phones, programmes such as Whatsapp, Viber or Skype, social networking sites and satellite channels. They advised the Jordanian authorities to stop trying to implement this kind of repression, “since this is part of a worldwide human progress you can't stop.”

Strange timing
As well as a lively discussion about why Amman might want to block these sites, many people were also troubled by the timing of the ban. People are concerned about the possible repercussions of the Syrian crisis on Jordan, and this fear was heightened when private (but not state) media reported that America is sending Patriot rockets and F16s to Jordan, which will be used for military training and to protect the country from any possible danger.

Others connected the move to clashes happening in the [southern] city of Ma'an, which only the private media have covered. Some saw it as a first step in a broader crackdown that the government will try to implement, while other tweets were comparing the situation in Jordan to the uprisings in Tunis, Egypt and Libya and predicting the fall of the regime

Organisation needed
But there are also those who support the government ban, praising it as a necessary reaction to the “media chaos” these websites create. They blame these news sites for spreading inaccurate information and even deliberately exaggerating the importance of certain events in order to attract more readers.

One commentator wrote: “I am living outside Jordan and I follow some of these websites. When I am back in Jordan, however, I don't see the importance of the events they write about. Sometimes it's even less important than other daily news. Therefore I think it's really necessary to organise and register these websites and make them respect the law, not just for the sake of the country, but for everybody's sake.”