Nov 11 2006
AMMAN, Jordan — The breathless caller was desperate, with nowhere else to turn:”Help me to get a Bedouin and his camels and sheep out of my street,”he pleaded.”The herd nearly attacked two neighborhood boys.”
Another caller wanted help rescuing his three Lebanese nephews stranded on the Syrian border because they didn’t have the proper papers.
It’s all in a day’s work for AmmanNet, a station providing ordinary Jordanians more than the usual Arab radio fare of pop music and government-sanctioned news.
Founded as the Arab world’s first online radio station, AmmanNet’s 24-hour broadcast has since moved to the FM dial, where it includes a call-in show taking complaints about public services _ including farm animals in the streets _ and a program offering legal counseling.
A cultural program _”The Smell of Coffee”_ features poetry readings, music and the arts, and live broadcasts from Jordan’s sometimes stormy parliament sessions.
“Unlike satellite TV in the Middle East, which focuses on regional and world news, radio stations, such as AmmanNet, have really helped play a role in informing people on a community level about what’s going on in their own backyard,”said Frances Abouzeid of Freedom House, a Washington-based democracy advocacy group.
“AmmanNet is the first in Jordan to use a kind of documentary style of telling a story, having people call-in, invitingthem into the studio and hearing about the local context,”she said.
That achievement will be recognized during a weeklong conference of the World Association of Community Radio Broadcasters, which begins Saturday in the Jordanian capital.
The conference, the first of its kind in the Arab world, will discuss such topics as empowering women and increasing access to information in isolated communities.
Other community radio stations are being planned at Yarmouk University in Irbid _ with help from Western Kentucky University and the Washington-based Internews Network _ and in Maan, a southern militant hotbed, with assistance from the British Council.
AmmanNet was the brainchild of a Palestinian journalist, Daoud Kuttab, who established the station six years ago. At the time, Jordanian law prohibited private FM stations. But AmmanNet’s streaming broadcasts over the Internet drew Arab listeners as far away as the United States and Europe.
As the law was gradually relaxed, AmmanNet began broadcasting in July 2005 at 92.4 on the FM dial. The four other Jordanian FM stations focus on music and cater mostly to a small segment of the capital’s mainly Westernized youth.
AmmanNet has found its niche in the impoverished districts of east Amman and in Zarqa, a gritty, industrial city just north of the capital that was also the home of the late al-Qaida in Iraq militant, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi.
“We feel we are really doing a good job because what I was talking about in east Amman is even worse in Zarqa _ the poverty, unemployment, pollution and they are really marginalized,”said Sawsan Zaideh, a journalist and producer with AmmanNet.
“We try to give more space for ordinary people to speak on the broadcast because we believe that the mainstream media are more focused on the government voice,”she said.”At first we thought this would be really boring for people, but we discovered they really wanted to know what the lawmakers they voted in were saying and doing.”
Among the most controversial programs were two that dealt with women’s rights in Jordan’s male-dominated society.
“Other topics were very sensitive, even taboo, like women’s sexuality,”Zaideh said.”We tried not to say things directly but would link them to a discussion of traditions and get into the subject that way.”
Those traditions include honor killings, where girls are murdered by close male relatives for presumed sexual activity that”shames”the family. Although honor killings are illegal, the tradition runs deep among poor families.
“There are upwards of 25 honor killings each year in Jordan and the majority of them are committed by youth who are unemployed, poor, and marginalized,”Zaideh said.
Buthaina Sulieman, a secretary at a government ministry, said she finds the shows”stimulating and beneficial.”She said her favorites are those that discuss women in the workplace _ from bankers and lawyers to street vendors, farmers and even prostitutes.
“I always learn something new when I tune into AmmanNet. Truth really can be more extraordinary than fiction. Best are those things I’ve learned that help me live a better life,”Sulieman said, chuckling.
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