A Furious Fall Out

Al Rai’s relations with the government have soured as the rancorous debate continues over the future of Jordan’s troubled daily newspapers.

By Osama Al Sharif

The crisis engulfing Jordan’s daily newspapers continues to show no sign of abating after Al-Rai’s editorial board declared war on the government of Abdallah Ensour last month. The newspaper’s employees took the unprecedented decision to block coverage of all government activities to protest the failure of the Social Security Investment Fund (SSIF), which owns 55 percent of the newspaper’s shares, to fire the board of directors. But that’s not all. Shortly after implementing its blackout of government news, the newspaper actually began publishing articles critical of the government.

Al Rai, which is published by the Jordan Press Foundation (JPF), has traditionally been a staunchly pro-government newspaper. As a majority owner, the government, through the SSIF, has long appointed the majority of the newspaper’s board of directors and other key editorial positions.

The leading newspaper has seen better days financially. It’s been losing money for the last three years, especially after the previous board approved the purchase of a JD35 million printing press. Employees say the project has drained the finances of the JPF, with millions of dinars pumped into the project every year to keep it running. They want the printing press to be transformed into a separate company and sold to the SSIF in order to relieve the company and help it return to profitability. They accuse the board of seeking to implement a restructuring plan that would terminate the employment of hundreds of employees, including journalists.

But Addustour, which is in an even worse financial position, has taken the decision to continue covering government activities. Al-Rai’s harsh criticism of the government came at a time when deputies intervened to find a solution to the mess Jordan’s newspapers find themselves in. They too are against restructuring and suggest that the government adopts measures to exempt the newspapers from paying sales tax and import duty, among other incentives. The Jordan Press Association (JPA) is also against adopting any plan that involves firing journalists.

Ironically, Al-Rai’s new editorial line was seen as a positive sign, with readers and observers saying newspapers should always aim to check government power. The Jordan Times, another JPF title, quoted Al Rai Assistant Chief Editor Khalil Shobaki as saying his newspaper would continue playing its role as the fourth estate even if the dispute comes to an end.


Cyber Jihadists Cause Havoc Online

Cyber attacks against various media increased last month with hackers attacking the websites of French, Belgian, and Arabic media outlets. London-based Al-Hayat had its website taken over for more than a day by a group calling itself the Yemen Cyber Army, which posted anti-Saudi slogans and a photo of Hizbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah. The group is believed to be from Iran, which opposes Saudi-led air strikes on Houthi rebels in Yemen.   

Islamic State hackers attacked the leading French broadcaster TV5 Monde, disrupting its transmission and website, and infiltrating its Twitter, Google+, and Facebook accounts. The cyber-jihadists posted pro-Islamic State images, flags, and slogans, in addition to statements warning French soldiers to cease fighting the terrorist group.

It took experts hours to regain control of the channel’s website and the management said it was still trying to understand how the hackers were able to carry out their attack in spite of a sophisticated firewall and security system.

The website of leading Belgian newspaper Le Soir was also hacked as well. The site was down for hours and the identity of the hackers is still not known.

But in Egypt terrorists resorted to a more primitive way to disable the media. Last month, an unknown group blew up electricity towers feeding the Media Production City west of Cairo, effectively taking tens of stations off the air for hours before emergency generators were brought in.

Cyber-jihad has become the latest weapon in the arsenal of insurgents and terrorist groups. Its main objective is to create chaos online and bring attention to their causes as part of a propaganda war.