(Jordan Times ) – The government seems to be reconsidering its plan to set up a Free Media Zone (FMZ), and is in the meantime proceeding with granting licenses to media institutions that will be registered under the anticipated Free Zones Law.
“The government is dealing with the FMZ project from a different dimension. This, however, does not mean that we have ruled it out, but merely changed the concept,” an Information Ministry official said on Tuesday, adding that the FMZ draft law, currently awaiting debate in the Lower House, would be applied at a later stage.
He said the government was no longer interested in designating a special area for the FMZ, but rather in giving investors themselves the freedom to choose the site and the sort of investment they wanted to make. “We want to provide the right climate for investments in media projects, and we don't want to force anybody into putting their investments into a certain spot or area, but rather leave it to their own choice,” said the official, who declined to be named.
He told the Jordan Times that an FMZ was a huge project that required millions of dollars for infrastructure and logistics, as well as adequate legislation. In the meantime, he said, “any foreign media company or institution can operate in Jordan and will be regarded as an independent entity exempt from all taxes and customs according to the free zone and new investment laws.”
As a first step in the new approach, the cabinet has approved the establishment of a limited shareholding investment company to be named the Media Zone Company. “The cabinet last week gave its stamp of approval to the establishment of a JD25 million media production company,” said the official, adding that this could be considered as a first step towards realizing the FMZ project.
He said the company would be registered under the Free Zones Law and become operational immediately after its legal registration, which he said could take place next week.
Under instructions from King Abdullah, and in a bid to strengthen the Kingdom's frail economy, the government of then-Prime Minister Abdur-Ra'uf S. Rawabdeh announced last September plans to establish an FMZ.
With the creation of such a zone, hopes were pinned on attracting investments, mainly from Arab-owned newspapers and satellite stations that have sought refuge from censorship abroad, and creating jobs for an army of qualified Jordanians. But many initially regarded the FMZ idea as far-fetched, an observation that was borne out by the slow pace at which the project advanced.
Observers attributed the failure to bring the project to life under Rawabdeh to the former government's reluctance to encourage a totally independent and free media environment. Others said the infrastructure for such a zone, as well as the law governing it, needed more work.
Despite pledges to prioritize the free media zone proposal, the Rawabdeh government waited until this January to present the zone's draft law to Parliament. Deputies in turn gave it the cold shoulder and held up debate on it until they had received clarification on several points they found vague.
To make up for lost time, the Abul Ragheb government has opted to permit different media outlets to be registered under the Free Zones Law and operate accordingly.
Officials had earlier said that the Media Zone Company would be responsible for media service investments including production and television studios, television ground broadcasting stations, Internet service provision, production and distribution of coded digital channels in Jordan. The company's tasks, as envisioned at that time, were also to include establishing decoder distribution units, providing consultancy and carrying out research.
The ministry official said the government intended to acquire a symbolic stake of 10 percent in the company through the Jordan Investment Bureau, the state investment arm, while the main investors would be from Arab states. Among the anticipated investors, he said, was Sheikh Saleh Kamel, owner of the Italy-based Arab Radio and Television (ART).
“Sheikh Kamel was one of the people who initiated the company, and is expected to invest in his personal capacity and not through ART,” said the official. He said ART was expected to be the first to invest in the new company by moving one of its five Iqraa channels to Jordan.
By Alia Shukri Hamzeh
© 2000 Mena Report (www.menareport.com )