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“Media” disappears from official royal discourse
Daoud Kuttab
2013/09/30

Analysts often sift through royal speeches, interviews and addresses to find trends in the Kingdom’s senior leadership direction. However, sometimes one must focus on the phrases and themes that are not mentioned in these texts.

Technological development has enabled in-depth, high-speed access to check how often specific words or phrases are used in certain texts.

In the last few months, King Abdullah II issued a fourth discussion paper, held a meeting with the Chinese News Agency’s editorial board, published an article in World Policy Journal and gave a speech at the General Assembly of the United Nations.

Analyzing the contents of these four texts, one sees expressions like “peace,” “security,” “democracy” and “citizenship” repeated to varying degrees. Since june 2nd, however, there has been no mention of the word “media” in any of the king’s papers, meetings, interviews or official speeches. This chart summarizes the frequency of His Majesty’s phrase usage:

Expression

Fourth discussion paper (6/2/13)

Meeting with editorial board of Chinese News Agency (9/15/13)

Article in World Policy Journal (9/21/13)

UN address (9/24/13)

Peace

4

17

5

3

Security

0

10

8

6

Democracy

8

4

1

0

Citizenship

19

3

4

2

Media

0

0

0

0

One might notice the scant mention of “peace” from Abdullah’s fourth discussion paper as well as the absence of “democracy” from his UN speech or of “security” from the fourth discussion paper as well. More striking, however, is the total absence of “media” in all these instances of royal communication.

On the one hand, this displays the neglect of media and press freedom and independence, in contrast to earlier promises of reform, transparency and slogans like “The sky is the limit of press freedom.” On the other hand, one might read the non-discussion of media as the royal line’s reflection of reality. The king does not want to speak falsehoods, after all.

The track record of Jordanian media, especially since June 1st, does not lend itself to our state leadership’s proud discussion. On March 9, the government’s High Commissioner gave special mention to the media, calling for the King to “strengthen cooperation with civil society institutions, political parties, unions and the media as partners in the process of reform and sustainable development.”

The Prime Minister reiterated this idea of media participation in reform when he addressed the World Conference at the International Press Institute, saying that “the Press and Publications Law, like any other law, is open for discussion and dialogue between stakeholders, Parliament and civil society. This affirms the government’s readiness to embark on media improvements and to promote a credible and responsible press.”

But the Jordanian state then proceeded, within less than two weeks and without any consultation, to block about 300 websites. It ignored parliamentary players and local media that called for an amendment to the press law, appealing to international institutions to freeze this decision in the meantime.

This has exacerbated the problem of local media’s decline in the written press. Examples include the halt in Al-Arab al-Youm’s printing and the disappointed expectations for transformation of Jordanian television’s public broadcasting service. The government gave abundant promises of legislative reform regarding media strategy, but none have come to pass.

The royal commitment to oppose journalists’ arrest has led to a contrary reality. Abdullah said in a speech to the international press that “journalists cannot be arrested or imprisoned for offenses on freedom of expression.” The opposite has happened.

The Royal Court’s neglect of press freedom and independence in its official discourse is no surprise. The king’s talk must reflect reality, after all – how could he call our media independent and free when all international assessments consider Jordan among countries that are “not free?”

Meanwhile, European experts have visited Jordan to evaluate the status and future of our media. They will present recommendations to Brussels on how the European Union might move forward in pursuit of its commitments regarding freedom of expression and press.

King Abdullah II spoke in consistency with himself and with the reality of deteriorating media freedom in Jordan. Doubtless, media development and independence requires a joint effort from not only the press but also all sectors of Jordanian society.

Translated by Alice Su. See original in Arabic here.

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