Municipal and Decentralization Polls: Hasty Press Coverage at the Expense of Quality, Balance, and Accuracy

AKEED, Husam Assal

Media coverage on Election Day of municipal and decentralization polls was characterized by reporting news quickly at the expense of the standards of clarity and balance. Also, the attitudes of media outlets, specifically daily newspapers, influenced the method of highlighting the news.

In their election coverage, media outlets focused on the progress of the electoral process, turnout, violations, complaints of vote buying, and acts of violence during the polling. They also highlighted the initial results of the elections.

Media outlets largely took their news from the statements of the Independent Election Commission (IEC), Rased, the National Center for Human Rights, and journalists in the field. It was clear that websites copied and republished items produced by other media outlets.  

Rumors During Electoral Process

Websites published many rumors and false stories about the progress of the elections. Several websites published a news item, claiming that a representative of a candidate in the city of Al-Salt had impersonated an IEC employee. However, IEC press spokesman Jihad Momani categorically denied the news.

Another rumor spread to the effect that some election materials were stolen from a polling center. Momani also denied the news in a press conference. Websites carried the denial of the news. Social media users published a photocopy of the name of a "foreign" lady on voter lists. Momani pointed out that a foreign name could be on the lists, but that in this case it belongs to a woman who has Jordanian citizenship.

Muwaqqar Incidents

The desire for reporting an attack on ballot boxes in Muwaqqar quickly overshadowed the accuracy of the information and the completeness of the elements of the news and its clarity and balance. Media outlets reported news about the occurrence of the attack in an abstract manner and without providing details initially and without any source. Then, a website ran the news as a case of robbery, transfer of boxes, breaking of all computers, and tearing up lists. Another website contradicted it by saying that the attack was on one computer. A third website reported that there was an attack on boxes and that ballot papers were inserted into box number 21, while one of the websites reported the news as an attack on three boxes (1, 2, and 21).

A website said that boxes were assaulted without mentioning their number, depending on Rased. One story had a headline about "breaking of a box," while the body of the story spoke about assaulting "boxes." This is in addition to numerous contradictions in the published news. Meanwhile, the Jordan News Agency (Petra) reported that the boxes that were assaulted were seven. One website broadcast a video clip of part of the assault, while providing details of what happened.

Media outlets failed to raise questions about the incidents in Muwaqqar and their repeat, which resembles a scenario that took place in the parliamentary elections last year, and the nature of the security preparations to prevent the occurrence and repeat of the attack. This is especially since Muwaqqar is classified as a hot electoral zone, according to Jihad Momani, press spokesman of the IEC, at a news conference on Election Day.

Performance of IEC

The website of the IEC and its two pages on Facebook and Twitter interacted through 18 posts on Facebook and 21 tweets on Twitter. The IEC also held several news conferences. They were held by Jihad Momani, IEC press spokesman, and Khaled Kalaldeh, chairman of the IEC Board of Commissioners. They announced numerous developments pertaining to the electoral process.  

The IEC page on Facebook published a photo, urging voters not to heed acts of violence and attacks on boxes. The photo had the sentence "Do not let a villain steal your right; participate immediately." Many comments objected to the use of this word.

Sudden Intensity of Media Coverage

It was noticed that there was significant interest in covering Election Day and its progress, as well as some violations, acts of violence, and the initial and official election results, which is expected and common in Jordanian elections. However, despite the fact that the polling was for both municipal and decentralization elections, it did not receive proper coverage during the period that preceded Election Day. Many media outlets failed to ensure the right to know and to educate citizens sufficiently about the meaning of decentralization and its direct impact on citizens and even the mechanism of voting. This responsibility is shared between the media and official institutions.

This failure happened despite indications that citizens need awareness and education with regard to the application of decentralization and its elections, such as a Survey of Jordanian Public Opinion published by the International Republican Institute last month. Also, a poll by Identity Center last June revealed that citizens were unaware of the method of casting ballots and its procedures.

Apprehension Over "National Coalition for Reform" Win of Some Seats

The announcement by the National Coalition for Reform that it had won 76 seats in municipal and decentralization elections caused concern for several media outlets. Some of them spread rumors during the polling. Other media outlets mounted an attack after the emergence of the initial results, in a violation of the Professional and Ethical Code of Conduct for Media Coverage of the Elections, which stresses the need for the media to cover the electoral process based on the rules of fairness, integrity, and objectivity. They should also observe justice without bias, discrimination, or favoritism.

One of the websites published a story about the withdrawal of candidates of the National Coalition for Reform under the headline "Muslim Brotherhood Announces Withdrawal From Municipal Elections" in Zarqa Governorate. The reference here is to Ali Abu Al Sukkar, who is running for mayor. The website then removed the story and published a statement by Abu Al Sukkar, in which he denied the withdrawal: "Abu Al Sukkar Tells Saraya: I Am Still Running for Mayor in Zarqa…Spreading Rumors Due to Support for Reform Bloc."  Another website published a story about a coalition candidate running in Amman threatening to withdraw from the elections. However, the coalition denied the truth of these stories. Besides, Abu Al Sukkar denied this and stressed that there was no intention to withdraw. He urged the media to seek accuracy when reporting news.

One of the websites expressed "Fears Over Islamization of Leadership Posts at Zarqa Municipality," while another accused the National Coalition for Reform of lying. The website said that "the National Coalition for Reform announced winning a landslide in the municipal elections by obtaining 52% in the decentralization elections." The website tried to refute this. However, the coalition did not say that it won 52% of the seats in the municipal or decentralization elections. Its statement said that it "won 25 seats in the decentralized governorate councils out of 48 seats it competed for, accounting for 52% in eight governorates." This means that this percentage is that of winners out of the 48 candidates for the decentralization elections.

The AKEED Monitor believes that the media coverage of the electoral process was characterized by intensity and quantity at the expense of quality. It came after a period of modest coverage that preceded the elections. Besides, speed in reporting was visible at the expense of the completion of the elements of news material, balance, clarity, and accuracy.

The coverage was marked by copying press material from media outlets and republishing it. The media content offered by many media outlets reflected their own positions and attitudes.

Going back to "the Professional and Ethical Code of Conduct for Media Coverage of the Elections," it was observed that there were violations of coverage of the electoral process based on the rules of fairness, integrity, objectivity, and impartiality. There were also violations of accuracy of coverage through the use of rules of verification of information, while some media outlets did not show concern about separating news items from opinion pieces.