The Lower House on Tuesday passed the controversial amendments to the 2012 press and publications draft law after adding minor changes to the National Guidance Committee’s recommendations.
While lawmakers were discussing the law, dozens of journalists gathered near Parliament, calling on the deputies to reject the bill. They later described the endorsement of the amendments as a return to the “martial law” era.
The lawmakers supported a proposal by Deputy Mahmoud Kharabsheh (Balqa, 1st District), under which he said the bill must deal with licensed news websites as newspapers.
Under his proposal, the Department of Press and Publications (DPP) cannot block licensed websites.
“Any news website has to obtain a licence and register with the authorities, then it will be governed by the active laws regulating the work of newspapers,” he said.
Following deliberations over Kharabsheh’s suggestion, 40 deputies voted for adopting it out of the 69 MPs who were present in the session during the discussions out of the 120-strong House.
The National Guidance Committee endorsed the draft amendments earlier this week, limiting the jurisdiction to block licensed websites to the judicial authority, but granting the DPP the authority to block any unlicensed website.
But lawmakers did not make any other major changes to the law, approving most of the controversial amendments.
Under the amendments, online media will be required to register and obtain licences from the DPP, with registration fees be lowered from JD10,000 to JD1,000.
The bill also holds publishers of online media outlets accountable for any comments their readers post under published articles.
In addition, news websites will be prohibited from publishing comments not relevant to the published article, and all comments must be archived for a period of no less than six months.
President of the National Guidance Committee, Southern Badia MP Hamad Hajaya, who has worked as a journalist at the Jordan News Agency, Petra, withdrew from the session in protest against the amendments.
Hajaya’s individual position is at odds with the House committee’s overall position, which endorsed the bill.
In addition to Hajaya, 13 deputies left the meeting following an argument between MP Jamil Nimri (Irbid, 2nd District), who is also a columnist with Al Ghad daily, and Lower House Speaker Abdul Karim Dughmi.
Nimri protested against the voting mechanism over the bill’s articles saying: “If this is the way we are going to vote on these amendments then I will withdraw from the meeting.”
“If you decide to do so then it is your choice,” Dughmi responded.
Also during the session, Prime Minister Fayez Tarawneh said: “The aim behind this bill is not to narrow the margin of freedom or silence anyone.”
He told the deputies that the government wants to amend this “crucial bill” to better streamline the online media sector.
Meanwhile, the Jordan Press Association joined the protesting journalists yesterday with its president, Tareq Momani, and council members taking part in the protest near Parliament.
The protesters carried a symbolic coffin for “freedom of the Internet”, in an indication that passing this draft legislation would “kill” Internet freedom in the Kingdom.