AMMAN: Protests by journalists of Jordan’s Al Rai newspapers, demanding better living conditions and blaming consecutive governments’ interference for the deteriorating condition of print media, have entered their tenth day.
The journalists at the country’s largest pro-state Arabic daily — also labeled as the “government’s mouthpiece” — began a sit-in last Tuesday. Many have not been paid in eight months, saying their condition is critical, to the point where they are unable to feed and warm their children, or even afford fuel or bus fares to go to work.
Public and political support has grown after a video went viral on social media showing one of protesters trying to set himself on fire, and the journalists have grown more stubborn, preventing the newspaper’s board members from entering their offices and pledging to stay until all their demands are met.
Fellow journalists from Al Ghad and Ad Dustour, The Jordan Times, the Jordan Press Association and the International Federation of Journalists have added their support, with the latter two issuing strongly-worded statements calling on the government to support the press and ensure the welfare of journalists.
In their statements, copies of which were sent to Arab News, the JPA and IFJ also called on Al Rai’s management to reinstate the leaders of the protest it laid off for ejecting the paper’s general manager.
JPA Vice President Jamal Shtewi, also a veteran journalist of Al Rai, was quoted in the statement as expressing “full” solidarity with his colleagues, saying that the association’s council members have joined the protest and will even sleep in the newspaper’s building until all protesters’ demands are met.
The IFJ said it “stands in solidarity with the journalists and demands the employer pays their salaries and respects their social and professional rights.”
The crisis snowballed following remarks by Jordanian Prime Minister Bishr Al-Khasawneh in Parliament on Wednesday that the government could not extend any direct support to Al Rai or Ad Dustour because they are private companies.
Expressing understanding of the journalists’ situation and appreciation for their roles, the premier said the government was looking into ways to support newspapers outside the budget.
During Wednesday’s session, several MPs argued that Al Rai and Ad Dustour should be considered as government-owned because the Social Security Corporation owns most of their shares.
The lower house has formed a committee to follow up on print media woes with the government.
In previous remarks to the government-owned Al-Mamlakah TV, JPA President Rakan Saaideh blamed the SSC for the deteriorating condition of Al Rai and Ad Dustour.
“The SSC appoints the board members of the newspapers and it is to blame for their ill-management, lack of vision and wrong investment decisions.”
Saaideh said the government should not deal with newspapers in terms of how much they profit or lose, but as major pillars of the state, suggesting the establishment of a national fund to support print media.
Echoing his remarks, JPA council member Khaled Qudah claimed that the direct interference of the government in newspapers is the “reason behind their woes and accumulated debts.
“The government, through the SSC, has been appointing incapable board members for Al Rai and Ad Dustour, who have no vision on how to solve the newspapers’ problems and financial losses,” Qudah said.
“Either the SSC withdraws, and then we really are (in the) private sector and they let us run the show, or they deal with us as government-owned and they give us support.”