Discriminatory Rhetoric, Invasion of Privacy, Rumors Accompany Razzaz Government Formation

AKEED, Anwar Ziadat

No sooner had the government of Dr. Omar Razzaz been announced on Thursday, 14 June 2018, than it faced a campaign of criticism on news websites and social media platforms. The criticism centered on the fact that the government retained 15 ministers from the previous cabinet of Dr. Hani Mulki, as well as the qualifications of some new ministers. However, the criticism exceeded objective boundaries and encroached on the personal life of some cabinet members, sometimes using discriminatory rhetoric.

The criticism on news websites and social media involved private, personal, and family matters of some cabinet members, occasionally linked to their culture, gender, or regionalist/sectarian background. There was also criticism of some of their hobbies, including a report published under the headline "Razzaz, Eid, and the Miserables."

It is observed that the media, in general, maintained objective criticism. It also professionally followed what is published. However, the Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) noticed a number of violations on websites and social media pages.

Some media outlets introduced the new prime minister by using the following headline: "Prime Minister Omar Razzaz of Syrian Origin." They said that he was born to a Syrian father, who is Dr. Munif Razzaz, an Arab politician born in Damascus in 1919. Munif Razzaz immigrated with his family to Jordan in 1925. His mother is also Palestinian from Gaza." When such a reference is used as the headline of a story, it has no value in assessing performance.

Some stories contained criticism linked to regionalist roots and professional background. They had the following headlines: "10 Ministers From Irbid, 5 Ministers of Syrian Origin, 6 Ministers From Salt, and 4 Ministers From Ahli Bank." Other headlines included the following: "Maslamani on Razzaz Government: Charity Begins at Home," and "Secrets, Details of Replacing Ministers of Razzaz Government at Last Moments." 

As for criticism on social media, a lot of it exceeded objectivity and focused on the private life of the new cabinet ministers. The ministers involved included Mothanna Gharaibeh, minister of information and communications technology, who triggered a debate on the pages of these sites; Basma Nsour; minister of culture; Tareq Hammouri, minister of industry and trade; Hala Lattouf, minister of social development; and Makram Qaisi, minister of youth. 

Some comments and posts contained abusive words, sarcasm, inaccurate personal information, and undocumented accusations. Also, pictures of the cabinet team were posted, along with scathing criticism. Old pictures were used in a sarcastic manner that degrades a person, whether he is an official or an ordinary citizen.

Faced with this situation, some articles noted that the criticism "turned personal and exceeded, on many occasions, professional considerations. It also stooped to the level of defamation, character assassination, and fabrication of accusations in a campaign that thousands of people engaged in without the least knowledge of the facts and objectives behind it."

One article said that "what happened with Minister Gharaibeh, 38, was shameful, disgraceful, and unfair. Social media users and news websites, which are supposed to be professional, carried pictures, posts, and news about his personal life."

Another article stated the following: "The noticeable thing about this accusatory campaign is the argumentation that is based on ethnic or regionalist background. I do not like this at all. I do not agree with these voices that spoke loudly about Razzaz not being from purely Jordanian origins. There is no difference between a Jordanian from the East Bank and a Jordanian from Syrian or Palestinian origins, between a Christian Jordanian and a Muslim Jordanian,…"

Under the headline "Alien to Our Ethics," one article said that "some activists on social media attacked the persons of the ministers, using insults, accusations, and vilification. This went beyond the boundaries of freedom and the right of citizens to know and freedom of publishing. In some posts, activists attacked persons simply because they had different beliefs, lifestyles, or some practices and customs."

Professional Violations

After the announcement of the government composition, social media circulated incorrect information about some cabinet members. News websites reported this information. Other websites published news under different headlines in response to these rumors, including "Razzaz Defends Ministers Against Rumors."

Some material published on news websites contained information from undocumented sources without taking professional and ethical principles into consideration.

Rakan Saaideh, president of the Jordan Press Association, told AKEED that "allowable criticism has to do with performance and assessment of work, and not criticism related to the private affairs of individuals." He added that "violating the privacy of individuals is unprofessional and rejected. This should be heeded."

He pointed out that "there are values and ethics that govern what we write and handle as media establishments and individuals. This is based on objectivity, accuracy, and credibility." He stressed the need for steering clear of personal issues and demonstrating commitment to laws and press codes of honor that regulate media work.

Hala Ahed, a lawyer and rights activist, told AKEED that permissible criticism "involves the work of the minister and personal conduct that affects his work, even if there is invasion of privacy, such as circulating the pictures of an active official who is gambling."

She added: "We notice that some of the criticism against the new ministers sometimes has to do with things that do not affect their work. Some of it has to do with personal conduct prior to taking office and does not affect their discharge of duties. This criticism is not allowable. Besides, this criticism sometimes reaches the extent of defamation and libel." She said: "The most serious thing about this is involving the families of ministers and exceeding allowable criticism."

She went on to say: "Focusing on the origins of ministers and their spouses helps to divert public attention from real issues. There are some legitimate questions that are at the core of media work and people's right to know. Meanwhile, some posts violate privacy." She said that "we have to make a distinction between a person who spreads a rumor and those who circulate it out of goodwill."

AKEED had previously tackled similar issues under other headlines, including "Media Outlets Exceed Right to Criticism, Engage in Insults, Invasion of Privacy in Cases of Georgina and Haddad," and "Cabinet Reshuffle on Social Media: Criticism of Public Figures Does Not Mean Violating Privacy."