The draft law amending the 2019 Guarantee of Access to Information law, which is currently being discussed in the Parliament, is close to completing the constitutional procedures and stages for its approval after making amendments to its articles for the first time since it was issued in 2007.
In a panel discussion entitled: “A Reading of the New Access to Information Law”, in which spoke the lawyer specialized in media issues and cybercrime, Khaled Khleifat, and MP Omar Ayasrah, and which was hosted by the Arab Renaissance for Democracy and Development (ARDD), on Monday, February 5, 2024, within the Justice Sector Support Forum, the speakers stressed that the law was meant to be in line with the basic principles enshrined in the Jordanian constitution first and foremost, as well as with international human rights standards, which emphasize the need for information flow and transparency.
On the draft law, the main advisor at Durrat Al Manal for Development and Training, Dr. Sawsan Al-Majali, who moderated the meeting, which comes within the framework of the dialogues to enhance public confidence in the justice sector, stressed the right of citizens to access information within the legal controls, conditions, and policies, indicating that the amended law comes to reconstitute the Information Council, to include representatives of civil society institutions, and to oblige the departments to classify what is considered confidential and protected according to the mechanism of classification and indexing of information.
For his part, Khleifat called for reconsidering the method of classifying information and the duration of obtaining it, underlining the importance of raising awareness about the dissemination of information, and the right of citizens and journalists to obtain it.
“If an official refrains from disclosing information, he is not punished administratively or judicially, and he is entitled to do so according to the law,” Khleifat said, adding that the law’s entry into force, if done appropriately, will lead to the promotion of democratic principles, transparency, and integrity. He also pointed out that Jordan is one of the first Arab countries to legislate and issue a law on the right to access information, explaining that, from a legislative point of view, work must be done to amend this law in line with “best practices, international standards, and the development of societies; so that we will have achieved the purpose of the law”.
In turn, MP Al-Ayasrah pointed out that the law stemmed from the awareness of the Jordanian state with all its pillars of its importance and centrality in the reform process, and that the royal directives were clear in this context and in several meetings held by King Abdullah II with the relevant authorities, where he repeatedly stressed that the modernization project with its three political, economic, and administrative tracks is a state project that does not tolerate indolence in its implementation, nor the cancellation or postponement thereof.
From a similar standpoint, Al-Ayasrah said that this law came in response to the Cybercrime Law, at a time when the voices of the media, community, trade unions and activists on social networking sites have called for their right to express their opinions away from punishment, calling for the new amendments to the law to properly guarantee that the media and citizens have access to information and continuous communication with professional media, as the alternative to that would be the spread of false news and rumors.
Between the speeches of Al-Ayasrah and Khleifat, the participants in the meeting expressed their belief that the emphasis on the importance of enforcing the new law stemmed from the belief that political, economic, and administrative reform can only be achieved through the ability of the media and research institutions to obtain information that enables them to carry out their tasks in reporting facts and in determining the extent to which these obligations are being fulfilled. At the same time, this right would enable individuals to adopt positions and form opinions based on real information, away from false or misleading information, and most importantly, it could rebuild trust between public authorities and citizens, which is the ultimate goal.
The participants also recommended making concrete amendments to the articles of the law, institutionalizing mechanisms for responding to requests for information, maintaining the flow of information, and applying ethical standards, whether in the dissemination or disclosure of information, with the need to build a national institutional system to ensure freedom of opinion and expression, and the participation of civil society institutions in law enforcement, as well as providing a national archive that helps researchers identify facts and information, and emphasizing that non-disclosure of information affects the performance of institutions in general.