Amman, Asharq Al-Awsat- Since 2000, Jordanian Intelligence has managed to thwart approximately 100 terrorism related cases from illegal crossings of borders and arms smuggling into Palestinian land, attempts to infiltrate into Iraq, internal organisations planning Israeli assassinations, the destroying of foreign interests, and assaults on foreign tourists. All cases have been handed over to the judicial authority.
In the Jordanian press, correspondents who specialise in investigating terrorist-related news also monitor press releases issued by security authorities, released for public security or general intelligence, which require careful scrutiny and regular updates. In light of the terrorist attacks on Jordan of late, such as the recent tourist attack that left one visitor to the country dead and others wounded, and the 2005 hotel bombings in the Jordanian capital Amman, the relationship between the security authorities and the press has been an ebb and flow of tension. The priority for the authorities is to arrest the culprits. It goes without saying that what is important to a man of law and order differs from what is important to a journalist, the former works in secrecy and in discretion whilst the latter works in openness. Another matter to consider is public opinion and reaction; how the public handles the events that take place, including reactions and positions during the aftermath. When I visited Abu Musab al Zarqawi’s family home to cover his family and neighbours’ reactions to his death, we were approached by a group of youngsters who were chasing journalists and media representatives and hurling stones at them to keep them away from the house. As a result, my car was damaged, and when I asked the undercover police for protection, they advised me to leave the area and said that if I wanted to file a complaint, I would need to go to the police station. However, there is also another problem; many people do not like to talk to reporters, especially regarding security violations, perhaps out of fear of the authorities or thinking that the journalists are police officers in disguise.
Perhaps the clearest indication of the changing face of journalism is that the Jordanian State Security court has listed the names of journalists who either regularly attend or hope to cover court hearings. It is the nature of a particular case presented before the court that attracts the press such as the case of Sajida Rishawi who was accused of taking part in the hotel bombings in Amman. Hundreds of journalists and media representatives gathered in the courtroom to cover the proceedings held at Juwaida prison in the Jordanian capital. Furthermore, the daily press that specialises in police-related incidents has frequent contact with the Public Security Directorate’s press office to get updates on the latest news and reports issued by the public security authorities, or a list of the crimes committed in Jordanian cities. Add to those the findings of a joint committee of the High Council for Media, the Public Security Directorate, the Jordanian Media Centre, and the Jordan Press Association (JPA), all of which approved procedures to organise and facilitate matters for journalists and media while covering events both in emergency situations and special cases.
Tareq al Momani, president of the JPA, told Asharq Al Awsat that these procedures have been approved by the public security director, and accordingly, special badges will be issued and displayed on cars and other vehicles used by journalists, as well as special jackets for media representatives. He added that according to the procedures which will take effect by the end of this month, the Jordanian Media Centre will present the Public Security Directorate’s PR department with a list of all the names of journalists who are authorised to cover events, in order to facilitate security matters for journalists and media personnel who hold approved press identification cards. This would facilitate reaching their chosen locations and ensure cooperation.
To guarantee the spread of swift and accurate information, Momani said that security authorities will issue statements as soon as a crisis takes place, additionally setting up meetings or press conferences as soon as possible to answer questions. Security authorities will allow journalists to use hotlines designated for urgent coverage, he said. Authorities will also designate a station on the scene, allowing the media to observe from a safe distance while security authorities are at work. There will be an on-site liaison officer to assist, and in general, efforts will be made to maintain an amicable professional relationship between public security authorities, the media, and press institutions. Momani stated that if security authorities need to summon a journalist, they will first notify the JPA rather than resort to taking them to the police station directly.
Momani told Asharq Al Awsat that security authorities have taken measures to stop physical and verbal harassment, arrests, use of force, and the confiscating of media equipment whilst on the job and any cases of such would be registered as a violation of the freedom of the press and media. Periodical meetings between security authorities, the Jordanian Media Centre, the Jordan Press Association and media associations concerned with covering security matters to discuss procedural issues will take place ensuring that journalists can carry out their work efficiently.
I suggested that an agreement be reached between military and security bodies to devise a mechanism to help organise and facilitate the coverage of national events. Momani explained that the procedures introduced in Jordan in the event of emergencies or even general national coverage are unique and that it can be considered an achievement to be built upon and developed.