By Bill Marx, World Books
According to a column posted around this time last year on the Arabic Media Internet Network, censorship laws in Jordan were being scrapped and censors were losing their jobs. But that prediction turns out to have been optimistic.
A study just released by the Jordan-based Center for Defending Freedom of Journalists (CDFJ), finds that freedom of the press in Jordan remains problematic.
Back in 2007, Palestinian columnist Daoud Kuttab wrote that censors had become the casualties of technology: texts, manuscripts, and messages can be easily posted online or sent by e-mail, rendering attempts to control information virtually impossible. Jordanian publishers no longer had to submit manuscripts to the now defunct office of book censorship, which could ask for objectionable material to be removed before publication.
Daoud KuttabEarly that same year a similar Jordanian law requesting the pre-censorship of newspapers and magazines had been struck down for the same reason.
But the CDFJ report, the result of a canvas of 501 journalists, points out that Jordan's reporters and writers still face a "magnitude of dangers, problems, and violations."
Among the reports findings: 94% of the surveyed journalists exercise self-censorship; 80% of the surveyed journalists said that they avoid criticizing the security services; 75% avoid criticizing leaders of Arab and foreign countries; 57% believe that criticizing the government is a red line; 56% do not tackle sexual issues in their writings."
The report suggests why Jordan's publishers and writers greeted the end of government censorship with muted enthusiasm. The Cold War stereotype of censorship -- an office manned by brutal apparatchiks and puritanical bureaucrats sending out goons to roundup illegal manuscripts -- is giving way to different, but equally insidious forms of expunging dissent. Censorship in the 21st century is morphing into new, less confrontational arrangements between the silencers and the silenced.
In the case of Jordan, for example, the now abolished government censors are more, rather than less, valuable to writers and publishers. The latter don't feel they have sufficient legal protections to express themselves freely or honestly in a society that contains, according to Kuttab, forces that are fiercely irrational and litigious.
The upshot is that the unemployed government censors are volunteering to vet the texts and manuscripts as they did before, helping to keep writers out of court by warning them of risky and risquÃ© material that should be removed. In addition, authors learn to internalize constraints that are no longer supposed to be in effect. The arrangement supplies dark comic fodder worthy of the theater of the absurd.