When a Journalist Becomes the News Subject - Word&Way

When a Journalist Becomes the News Subject

When the plane from London landed I was in the middle of reading a book titled “Yet in the Dark Streets Shining.” It was written by my cousin Bishara Awad and tells the story of a Palestinian family who lost their father in the 1948 war and has risen from that dark moment to provide hope and resilience.

Daoud Kuttab

We were in London to attend a memorial service of my brother-in-law Labib Madanat whose sudden death while serving the Lord in Iraq shocked us and many around us.

As I have done hundreds of times, I arrived at the Jordanian passport control for the routine check when I was surprised to find out that I was asked to wait. It was already past midnight and we were eager to get home and get some sleep. I had a busy day because our radio station was organizing a big event on the occasion of International Women’s Day.

My mind wondered as we waited to find out why I was being held up. In recent months I have been hearing some chatter about my journalistic work but I never expected it to reach the point of restricting my movement. A number of stories about the King had been published internationally sometimes with quotes from me. I also wrote a long piece for Foreign Policy about the restrictions of media in Jordan. But what I was worried about was less Jordan and the King and more a new journalistic project I started focusing on the situation of Christians in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.

Maghtas.com, a site whose name also reflects the baptismal site in the east bank of the Jordan river, has upset some higher-up Christian religious leaders who are not used to criticism even mild commentary. The new site, which had quickly received a lot of attention from ordinary Christians, dealt with personal status issues like advocating for equality between men and women on issues of inheritance.

Jordan, like most Arab countries, applies the sharia law in terms of giving male heirs twice what the female heir gets. Christian ecclesiastical courts are carrying out this issue even though Jordanian law has given courts autonomy in their deliberations. We also dealt with the lack of equal treatment of evangelical Christians and covered a $31 million lawsuit in the US against the Latin Patriarchate. All these stories have upset the religious leaders that they recommended to the government, and the media commission was obliged to block our website in Jordan.

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All these issues were whirling in my mind when senior Jordanian police called me in and said that there was a complaint against me to the cybercrime police unit. “Ok,” I said rather naively, “I will attend to this tomorrow.” The senior official smiled and said that I would have to stay overnight at the airport and go to the police with an escort. “Are you serious?” I asked. “Yes, unless you can find someone to go to the police station and bail you.” I quickly called my wife who was waiting by our bags and told her to try and go to the police station in Amman to bail me out.

As I waited I took out the book I had been reading on the airplane. I did this both to spend the time but I also wanted to send a signal that I will not be deterred by these actions. I knew I had done nothing wrong but that sometimes governmental regimes use these tactics to scare you into avoiding writing on controversial subjects.

Half an hour after my talk with the officers their cell phones began to ring and when they came to talk to me I realized that the news of my detention has become public and they wanted to limit the damage. He asked me if anyone is going to bail me because they are waiting for them and that I will soon be released.

Within less than two hours I was released, but the story didn’t stop. It appears that my short detention, which came on the heels of the 11-hour detention of another journalist, has caused some trouble among senior decision-makers. A decision was quickly made by the government of Jordan for an end to airport detentions regarding cases of cybercrime complaints.

As a journalist, you want to cover the news and not be the subject of the news. The detention has done nothing to deter me, on the contrary. My only concern is that other younger less experienced journalists will see what happened to me despite my high profile and begin practicing one of the worst things that can happen to a journalist: self-censorship.


Daoud Kuttab an award-winning journalist is a member of the Baptist Church in Amman and is the secretary of the Jordan Evangelical Council. He is the publisher of maghstas.com an online publication about Christians in Jordan, Palestine, and Israel.  Follow him on Twitter @daoudkuttab.