The Day After Press Freedom: A Call For Action

الإثنين 02 آذار 2009

Written By Ramsey G. Tesdell

On May 17th, 2007, His Majesty King Abdullah II opened the World Economic Forum at the Dead Sea in Jordan by asking the audience to, not just envision peace in the world, but begin to prepare for the challenges of the “day after peace.” The king has warned, on many occasion of these challenges – water scarcity, the development of infrastructure, employment of Arab youth under 24 – that face the Middle East.

Recently, he has asserted and re-asserted that journalists and bloggers should not be arrested for their opinions. Some have called this a gift, others a smoke screen. Experts everywhere wonder what impact this will have on the media in Jordan. Studying history, one can only wonder how long this new freedom (if it exists) will last, especially as the government retains considerable unofficial influence by posting journalists in media outlets and by intimidating journalists. A new survey suggests that 70% of journalists believe the government influences the news.

In general, the Jordanian press has failed. They have failed the people by acting as a record keepers instead of critically reporting events. They failed by not seeking out more diverse opinions or allowing more voices in. They have failed to take advantage of new and widely available (cheap) technology – to allow the people to speak for themselves. They have failed by reporting incorrect information. They have failed at being a critical press, and have only succeeded in towing the official line.

To compound the problem, the line between public relations and journalism is blurred. Too many press release are republished almost verbatim. And without an educational institution offering any sort of education for aspiring journalists, the problem builds on itself. Many agencies offer training courses, mostly funded from outside, but those focus on issues that those outside sources think are important. Such as American money to train journalists how to write about intellectual property and protect the interests of the American Empirecompanies. That same survey suggests that only 66% of journalists hold bachelor degrees, but it doesn’t say what those degrees are in.

The saying goes, you can’t teach an old dog new tricks
Rather than trying to change the press in Jordan – a rusty, old, painfully bureaucratic machine – I suggest building an entirely new machine. One built on the fundamentals of freedom, participation, and emancipation. Delivering multiple ways of participating and embracing technology as a key factor in this process. Not only should this renewal engage the youth, it should be led by the youth of Jordan. We have the future to look forward to, and if we don’t participate in the building of it, it won’t be built they way we want it to be.

That being said, it is terrifically important that we don’t dismiss the experience, the scars, the pain, and the hope of weathered journalists. They should be sought out to provide guidance and support for the daunting journey ahead. Without them, this journey is bound to failure.

This is a call to action. We, the youth of Jordan will not be silenced. We will rise up, standing on the shoulders of our elders, and build a new press. His Majesty has opened the door, but it is up to us to build a truly democratic press in Jordan, entirely independent of government control.

This is the dawn of a new press. Let us imagine the day after press freedom, and begin working towards that vision.

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