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Jordanian Government Commences Blocking Websites

BY Jessica McKenzie | Tuesday, June 4 2013

Four of the sites blocked by the Jordan government

What do Time Out magazine, Al Jazeera, Penthouse and the Muslim Brotherhood all have in common? Their websites were all blocked this weekend by the Jordan government for failing to register for a license.

Less than a year after more than 200 Jordanian websites went dark to protest proposed Internet media regulations, close to 300 websites (304 according to the BBC; 281 according to the Jordan Times) have been blocked for not complying with the new law. It requires websites that offer Jordan news — even overseas sites like Penthouse — to obtain a license from the Press and Publications Department (PPD). The law went into effect in September and sites had until January to comply.

In addition to requiring a license, the law gives authorities the power to block and censor websites and close Jordan offices, and holds publishers and editors liable for reader comments on their website. In order to even receive a license, the editor-in-chief must have been a member of the Jordan Press Association for more than four years (no renegade start-ups in Jordan).

“The government stressed that the law is aimed to organize the sector and provide legal guarantees against slander and unlawful material,” reported Ammon.

The organization Index on Censorship pointed out that “Given the flexible and rather expansive language of law, there also appears to be few guarantees or safeguards that the government won't block a site arbitrarily or simply amend the law to block sites that it wishes to target.”

The BBC reported that some online news outlets refused to comply in order to protest the law. One online editor whose site was blocked this weekend, Basel Okour, told the Jordan Times that he and 20 other online news publishers plan to strike until the government no longer blocks unlicensed sites. Another editor named Mohammad Hawamdeh did register his site, and says he is not worried about media freedom.

Plenty of others are worried, however. Blogger Naseem Tarawnah told the BBC he thinks the law will “create an environment of fear that encourages self-censorship” online; traditional media is already widely considered self-censored.

The Index on Censorship also speculated as to why some sites were blocked: Penthouse clearly offends public decency laws and Al Jazeera is thought to have fueled anti-government protests, but “it is unclear precisely what threat Time Out poses.”  I personally did not realize that Penthouse and Time Out regularly reported on Jordan news, but I guess that just goes to show the broad definition the Jordan government used when writing the law.

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