A fifth of the most popular websites do not disclose their data protection policies or how they use a visitor's personal information. REUTERS

Jordan announced on Monday it had blocked more than 300 unlicensed news websites as part of efforts to regulate online media and curb “sensationalized” reporting.

Jordan’s Information Minister Mohammed Momani told AP the government “recognizes media is one of the most important pillars of modern democracy, and strengthening it is a key component of Jordan’s political reform efforts.”

He said the government sought “free and independent national media,” and “will not allow personal attacks against individuals, or attacks against any groups or minorities.”

Access to 304 domestic online news sites were cut, while another 102 sites remain accessible because they were licensed or seeking registration, news reports said citing the Press and Publications Department.

“Electronic publications” in Jordan were mandated to get a license from the government under a new set of amendments to the Press and Publications Law endorsed by King Abdullah in September last year.

The government defines electronic publication as “an electronic site on the internet with a fixed address that offers publication services.”

Any such outlet that publishes “news, investigations, articles, or comments, which have to do with the internal or external affairs of the kingdom” must register with the commerce ministry and get a license from the culture ministry.

Several blocked websites said they did not register as a protest against the law, which critics say stifled freedom of expression online.

The amended law enables authorities to block and censor websites, as well as to hold the website owners responsible for comments posted on them. The law prohibits comments “containing information or facts unrelated to the news item,” those “violating laws,” and those that cannot be verified as “the truth.”

Human Rights Watch said last year the government had not shown “a valid reason for prohibiting user comments that are deemed unrelated to the item that triggered the comment, a prohibition that appears to be arbitrary interference in the right to free expression.”

The Muslim Brotherhood, Jordan’s largest opposition group, said in a statement that blocking online news sites was a “provocation in line with the government practice of tyranny” and an attempt “to gag opposing opinion.”

In the wake of the Arab Spring uprising in neighboring countries, Jordan has taken steps to ease restrictions on media.

However, several restrictions remain, including a ban on criticizing the king in public.