Court ruling against websites

I didn't spot this when it happened last month, but it has important implications for freedom of expression. The Jordanian Court of Cassation ruled that websites can be classified as "publications" and are therefore subject to penalties under the kingdom's Press and Publications Law for anything that "may be deemed offensive or imply criticism of the government, national unity or the economy".

This is obviously a backward step, as both the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) and Article 19, the campaign for free expression, point out. The CPJ argues that instead of 
extending "the outdated and restrictive standards that apply to print publications", the Jordanian government should be bringing the press law into line with international standards.

A number of prominent print journalists in Jordan have switched to the internet in order to avoid the restrictions on what they can write. In addition to blogs, there are thought to be about 30 popular Jordanian news websites.

The Ministry of Culture in Saudi Arabia also seems to be pushing for a law to regulate "electronic media" and several Saudi news websites are said to be supporting the idea – apparently because they are more interested in advertising revenue than editorial independence.

Posted by Brian Whitaker, 17 February 2010.