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Tue 21 Jun 2011 06:00 PM

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Jordan minister resigns over planned media curbs

Authorities argue media’s smear campaign against prominent figures hurts investment

Jordan minister resigns over planned media curbs
Jordans Information Minister Taher Adwan
Jordan minister resigns over planned media curbs
(Getty Images)

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 said.

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 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 some of the neighbouring countries, 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 rumours that he said would
"trigger hatreds".

The monarch also promised wider political liberalisation and
hinted heavily that future prime ministers would have to represent
parliamentary majorities, rather than be chosen by the king.