Jordanian minister quits over 'restrictive' media laws

Taher Adwan says new laws "that restrict freedom of expression and lower the ceiling of press freedoms" contrary to calls for political reforms.

Jordan protest 311 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Jordan protest 311
(photo credit: REUTERS)
AMMAN - Jordan's Information Minister Taher Adwan said on Tuesday he had resigned in protest over proposed laws which he said restricted freedom of expression and were a setback to the government's reform plan.
"We were working on democratic laws and I was surprised at the drafting of new laws that restrict freedom of expression and lowers the ceiling of press freedoms," Taher Adwan told Reuters.
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Prime Minister Marouf al-Bakhit's government had sent to a new parliamentary session, which begins on Wednesday, amendments toughening penalties on slander and defamation.
"The atmosphere against the media...is contrary to calls for political reforms. It's clear the forces resisting reform and supporters of corruption have a high voice and are able to abort any true national effort for reform," he added.
The boisterous Jordanian news portals that have reshaped the media scene are popular among youths fed up with self-censorship in the staid, pro-government dailies.
Online dissent has grown, with mounting political disenchantment spilling into street protests since the start of the year in the wake of wider Arab uprisings. The demand for reforms and a crackdown on corruption have come at a time of the worst economic contraction in years.
A previous government tried last year to restrict Web content through a new cyber law but the authorities backtracked due to official concern that the changes could damage Jordan's image as a relatively open country in the Arab world.
The authorities accuse some news portals and weekly magazines of stepping up a smear campaign against prominent figures, officials and businessmen without substantiating their allegations, saying this hurts investment and creates an atmosphere of intimidation.
Unlike neighboring Syria or Saudi Arabia, where access to the Internet is restricted and some bloggers and cyber journalists have been jailed, Jordan's independent Internet sites have been relatively free.
King Abdullah warned earlier this month in a televised speech against "the deterioration of the political and media discourse" through the spread of baseless rumors that he said would "trigger hatreds".
The monarch also promised wider political liberalization and hinted heavily that future prime ministers would have to represent parliamentary majorities, rather than be chosen by the king.