Wikileaks And The Silence Of Jordanian Media

Posted on: November 30th, 2010 by Lina 23 Comments

Newspaper Reader in Amman
Photo By: Laith Majali

Words by Naseem Tarawnah

It is arguably the biggest global story of the month, and quite possibly the year. Yet the biggest leak of confidential government cables in history has not been enough to elicit a proportionate reaction from the Jordanian media, even when Jordan plays an actual role in this bit of news. With the US embassy in Amman apparently being one of the top sources in the world when it comes to the leaks, and cables regarding Jordanian officials positions on Iran and the Middle East peace process being largely quoted in the international media, one is forced to wonder why the local media has initiated a self-imposed embargo on the story.

As the second day of the post-”cablegate” news cycle unfolds, local media in Jordan seems to have only stuck out its head enough to disseminate the government’s position in a slew of standardized articles in the major newspapers all reiterating the same denials and reaffirming the same positions.

This Jordan Times article basically sums up the official line on the issue:

“Jordan’s policy on regional issues, which the documents referred to, is clear and has been reiterated publicly by His Majesty King Abdullah in his meetings with US and international officials. This declared policy has been restated by several government officials who alone represent the official positions of Jordan,” the statement quoted a government official as saying.

… “Jordan has always stressed the importance of having relations among nations based on mutual respect and non-interference in the internal affairs of the other, which will ensure good neighbourly relations prevail in accordance with these principles,” the official said. With regards to the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the official said Jordan’s position has and will always remain that the conflict should be resolved on the basis of a two-state solution that ensures the establishment of a viable and independent Palestinian state as part of a comprehensive regional peace.

“These stances and positions are reiterated and made clear in all meetings between Jordanian officials and Americans or any other international officials. Everything indicated or interpreted by the American officials and mentioned in the documents reflect their personal readings and analysis,” the statement concluded. [source]

I’m actually quite surprised that the government even thought to issue a response. Typically this kind of thing is a moment for the government to go completely silence until things build up online and internationally to the point that it blows up in its face (the CIA-Afghan fiasco of January 2010 comes to mind). Ironically, this may have more to do with the US embassy than the Jordanian government itself, especially since the US state department seems to have spent the better part of this past week contacting foreign governments to “brief” them of the upcoming leak in preparation for some damage control. I expect Jordan was likely on that list. The US embassy in Amman was quick to send out a mass email with a a prepared statement by the White House press secretary in English and Arabic before the working day here in Amman ended.

What is interesting is that the Jordanian response seems to have provided local media with the “opportunity” to actually tackle the story, even in the online world where the headlines of the sole wikileaks article typically reads “Jordan denies…” quoting the unnamed government official. Only Ammon seems to have tackled the subject head on, going so far as to translate the quoted Jordanian officials mentioned in the cables, including Zaid Rifai. Yet, for the most part, this opportunity seems to be lost on most.

Jordan’s traditional media appears somewhat aloof, and missing, perhaps intentionally, the biggest news cycle of the year. The Jordan Times editorial today, for example, focuses on the lack of rain lately. Ad Dastour’s headline read “Jordan confirms its stance against any military action on Iran” in which it provides the same state-produced information. Al Rai has a similar headline reading “Jordanian Official: Wikileaks documents reflect perceptions of US officials” reproducing a near photo copy of the Ad Dastour article.

The usual slew of columnists have made better attempts.

Fahed Khitan states in Arab Al Yawm that some of the statements made by Jordanian officials to US diplomats are indicative of a desire by some to exaggerate threats and perceptions that back up US foreign policy stances, in an effort to curry favor with the Jordanian state, solidifying or advancing their own job positions. Khitan also suggests that as more wikileaks emerge, it is likely to cause more embarrassment for the US Ambassador in Amman particularly, who he believes will end up issuing an apology of some sort (this is naturally wishful thinking).

Yasser Abu Hilala writes an informative piece in Al Ghad but while he provides extensive context and background that shows he knows his journalism history, he fails to tackle the Jordanian-related cables or even those related to the Arab world, except as a passing afterthought in the last paragraph. The same can be said of another column in Al Ghad by Issa Al Shaebi, who seems to focus more on the boundless nature of wikileaks in the information age.

Suffice to say, the wikileaks story seems far from over, and no matter where one’s personal opinion falls on cablegate, one thing is certain: local media seems to be avoiding the story. One can easily conclude that Jordan’s media is either taking its cues of silence from the state or is simply aloof to what is unfolding on the front pages of newspapers all over the globe. If wikileaks is proving anything, it’s that the world is becoming more transparent and open whether we like it, enjoy it, or feel comfortable with it. With that in mind, this should be seen as an opportunity by Jordanian media to question officials on statements highlighted in the US cables and provide some measure of accountability for what is said, even if it is behind closed doors.