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French Version

Censoring the 'net' doesn't work

Although Jordan enjoys a relatively impressive level of press freedoms, this blockage of sites, through proxy severs, has caused concern among journalists and press freedom activists.

JORDAN (Star) - The policy of Internet Service Providers in Jordan to block-out selected news sites has been causing a commotion recently.

Some articles published on a number of Arabic and English-language news sites have been deemed as 'offensive' by the local authorities as they criticize Jordan's policies and slander political figures.

Although Jordan enjoys a relatively impressive level of press freedoms, this blockage of sites, through proxy severs, has caused concern among journalists and press freedom activists.

ISP's in Jordan operate within the confines of telecommunication laws and regulation stipulated by the Telecom Regulatory Committee (TRC). Obviously, on the evidence of this censorship, ISPs cooperate with local authorities to block certain web sites. Since this censorship became a topic of debate, there has been more attention and interest in the censored sites and the 'offensive' articles are now being circulated by email among friends and colleagues.

Other examples of 'remote censorship' have involved the local authorities informing a site to take an article off-line, rather than apply the drastic measure of blocking the whole site. On many occasions, over the past few years, 'offensive' articles have been published on well-known news sites, only to be taken off hours later due to a complaint being registered by local authorities.

This approach seems to be more favorable, but is still causing concern among advocates of press freedoms. Again, these articles find their way to all interested readers by email.

From the government's perspective, exercising such censorship is the convenient course of action, because the other option would be litigation which creates complex jurisdiction issues because most of these sites are not based in Jordan- in fact, most are based in the US and Europe- and, in most cases, the identity of the site owners or the writers of these articles are difficult to determine.

In this day and age of satellite TV, censorship has become a handful for local authorities, but even satellite TV is easier to handle; because most of these stations have ongoing relations with local governments and are owned by key figures in the region who are less likely to blatantly offend or attack a local government's policies or officials.

The Internet, however, is not 'manageable'. In fact, it's completely unstoppable. So, it's obvious that Internet censorship will not succeed. After all, there will always be another article on another site, and you can't block-out all sites or follow up on possibly hundreds, if not thousands, of sites! Chasing new web sites everyday and, generally, failing to stop them all cannot be the answer. A change of strategy is needed, probably one that involves conveying the 'official' views of the Jordanian government to counter the views published on these web sites.

The only way is to present the reader with both sides of an argument, and leave it to the reader to decide which he/she prefers. That is the epitome of press freedom, and the approach that will be appreciated by everyone. Maybe that's the best way to discredit these offensive sites and to prove their stories are inaccurate. Given time, people won't even follow their reports anymore.

Zeid Nasser
The Star

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