Jordan has been worried about its image recently. We worry what Al Jazeera and the Los Angeles Times say about us, as well as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. It is important to worry about your image if you are selling shampoo or mosquito repellents, but if image doesn’t affect your bottom line, how important is it?
Currently, the United States, Israel, Syria, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar, and a host of other countries are suffering serious image issues. Most of these countries protest that the media is unfair, and that coverage does not reflect the realities of their countries or their policies.
To a certain extent, it is true that the media likes to focus on negative aspects of any society, culture, behavior or policy. So, there is an inherent unfairness related to this. On the other hand, nobody seems to bother getting on Norway’s case. The only bad thing people know about Norway is that it is cold. Hardly headline material. Bad press require some basis of substance to happen. Many people worry about the image more than the reality.
So, how thick or thinned skinned should we be? It is human nature to care about how people think of you. A good image encourages tourism and investment. It also discourages other people from bombing or invading you (for fear over their own image). It also validates what you do and makes you feel good about yourself.
Trying to keep everybody happy all the time, on the other hand, can be an oppressive task. The nature of how things are require that you sometimes take stands that are unpopular or controversial. In the case of security, I believe that any PR considerations should be of secondary value to the task of fighting terrorism. This does not mean trampling human rights or free expression. Human rights have an inherent value irrespective of image considerations.
However, we should not shy away from the fact that terrorists and their supporters would use democratic freedoms to indoctrinate, recruit and incite young people into carrying out horrific acts. We also should not shy away from the fact that many in Israel would like change the regime in this country in order to establish an alternative homeland for Palestinians here. This would pave the way to expelling the remaining Palestinians from their lands, and allow for the resolution of an important obstacle in the path of peace between Israel and Lebanon.
Added to that, Arabists and Islamists like to blame the entire state of the nation on the “treachery” and “clientism” of the Jordanian regime. This regime is a convenient scapegoat, and diverts attention from the many failings of Arabists and Islamists themselves.
Therefore, achieving a perfect image is an impossible task for Jordan. Compromising our security and allowing the mass exodus of Palestinians from their homeland would appease most of our critics, but I would prefer a bad image.
To fight back, we need an independent, appealing, strong and credible media. Our print media is reasonable, but its effect is limited to the local population. There is lots of room for improvement, but a wide variety of critical coverage and commentary can be read here. Broadcast media, on the other hand, is a total disaster. This is disturbing because what others see of Jordan is mostly based on the broadcast and not the print media. The only way to improve our image is to allow the flourishing of independent broadcast media as well as an even more independent print media.