By Fuad Abu Hijleh
Jordan’s most popular cartoonist, Emad Hajjaj, assailed on Wednesday al- Ra’i newspaper which sacked him on accusation “of harming its financial interests,” through a cartoon in which he criticized a private telecom firm.
In an interview with Albawaba.com, Hajjaj said “he is paying the price of his position on privatization of press in Jordan.”
He explained that prior to publishing the cartoon in which he criticized Fast Link, a leading mobile provider, three out of five cartoons had been killed by the top daily’s editors. The cartoons were among a series in which Hajjaj urged for privatizing press.
The Jordanian government owns 33 percent of al- Ra’i’s shares, and the chairman is appointed by the board of directors following a nomination by the cabinet.
Hajjaj added that al- Ra’i’s editorial team “would lose their jobs if their newspaper is privatized,” adding that the threat has led them to wage a personal war against him under the pretext of the “Fast Link Issue”
For its part, the daily said it did not fire the cartoonist. Rather, it gave him a month paid leave.
“During this period, the corporation would conclude a new contract with him, in which the duties and responsibilities of each party are redefined,” the responsible editor of Al-Ra’i newspaper, Suleiman Qodah, told Albawaba.com.
"This whole thing has nothing to do with freedom of expression. The newspaper's decision to give Hajjaj a one month paid leave of absence was motivated by purely administrative reasons Qodah told AFP late Tuesday.
The artist said that the leave is only “a legal outlet so that the paper can evade paying me the due financial rights he’s entitled to in case of dismissal.”
"Al Rai newspaper's board of directors held an extraordinary meeting last night and decided to dismiss me for one month, after which I can only contribute as a free-lance," Hajjaj told AFP.
“I was not summoned to the meeting, which ended with the decision to fire me, although no similar action was taken against the editor who approved the publishing of the [Fast Link] cartoon.”
Qodah was the editor who passed the cartoon in question, according to the caricaturist.
Fast Link, which is coming under tough competition from a new rival, had protested to Al-Rai over the July 4 cartoon mocking one of its advertising campaigns.
Hajjaj denied as baseless allegations that he did the cartoon in favor of Mobilecom, Fast Link’s rival.
Fast Link was not available for comment when contacted Wednesday by Albawaba.com.
Fast Link told Al-Rai it considered it a "a bad joke " but did not press any charges, Hajjaj said, complaining that it was his company which punished him.
But Qodah told AFP that the Fast Link cartoon was not the only reason that prompted the decision concerning Hajjaj.
"There are other administrative reasons including the fact that he is not devoting himself entirely to the daily," he said -- Albawaba.com
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