Dec 18 2007

Jordanian media laws must be amended

Published by at 8:49 pm under Blogs,Jordan

By Daoud Kuttab

A decision by the outgoing Bakhit government rejecting an application for a radio license has exposed one of the major weaknesses of the current Jordanian Audio Visual Law. The applicant (author of this article) had requested permission to initiate a community radio station for the third largest city in Jordan, Zarqa. The request was made for the category of stations that would not broadcast news or political programming. No explanation for the rejection is made in the written decision made in the November 13 session. Clause 18b of the 2004 Audio Visual Law allows the council of ministers to refuse any request for a frequency without giving any explanation.

The weakness in this law was clearly exhibited when a government source made an anonymous statement to a local Jordanian daily inquiring why the decision was made. The ‘source’ explained that the cabinet refused the application because this was the second license application by the same company (AmmanNet) and because a community radio license had been issued a few weeks earlier to another organization.

Neither argument is mentioned in the existing law or subsequent regulations as reason for rejecting a license and neither was ever mentioned in the extensive discussions and rigorous application process which had culminated by the Audio Visual accepting that the application had met all administrative and technical requirements and hence the application was sent to the cabinet for approval according to law.

It is difficult to argue with an unexplained government decision by responding to words in a newspaper article attributed to an anonymous source. But, if we were to take these justification as reflecting the thinking of the outgoing government a number of serious counter arguments would be made.

A quick look at the official web site of the Audio Visual Commission ( reveals that at least two radio station owners have each applied for and received two separate similar (non political non news) radio licenses. The same site also reveals that the commission is reviewing the possibility of granting a license for yet another applicant applying for a second license.
Furthermore the argument that a license had just been issued for setting up a community radio station in Zarqa requires further scrutiny. Unfortunately the concept community radio doesn’t exist in either law or regulation for private frequency license. If it did one would expect and hope that community radio licenses would require a much lower license fee than the present exorbitant one and that a transparent licensing regulation would be made public for community radio licensing. It can also be argued that the specified applicant had requested and received a license for both Amman and Zarqa and therefore the idea that Zarqa will have a community station is not totally accurate. A further look at the large number of licensed stations broadcasting for Amman and the absence of any license specifically for Zarqa the third largest city in Jordan further weakens this argument.

There are a number of negative implications in the Bakhit government’s decision based on a non transparent clause in the audio visual law. Such a decision seriously erodes public confidence in the regulatory process that was hoped would strength public confidence, reform an archaic legal media environment, strengthen civil society and spurn local and foreign investment in electronic media.

Interested local and foreign companies and nongovernmental organizations will now have to think twice before applying for a license knowing that months of research and planning, investment in market studies and actual hefty initial financial investment ( a large bank check must be deposited when a fully technical and administrative application is made) can end up with a one line government rejection without a reason because of clause 18b. worse yet, this will return us to the days when investors and other interested parties used (wasta) and checked with friends in governments before applying for a licensing so as not to face the same fate. This will erase years of efforts to build good government into Jordanian laws and regulations.
On the other hand a transparent regulatory process in which applicants know what is required of them and know why they are rejected would allow them to make the necessary changes in order to reapply and get the necessary approvals. At minimum the option of a legal or administrative appeal process must be instituted by the government allowing rejected applicants to learn of the reasons of the rejection respond to them and if this neutral body found the reasons to be unfounded (as in our case) to request that the rejection be reversed. This would provide relief to applicants and would restore confidence in the regulatory system. Furthermore it would deter governmental groups or individuals from making unjustifiable excuses if they know that they could be challenged by a neutral body.

In November 2006, AMARC the Montreal based – worldwide foundation of community radios held its ninth global conference in Amman under the patronage of former prime minister Maarouf Bakhit. At that conference the government spokesman Naser Judeh speaking on behalf of the prime minister hailed the efforts of AmmanNet and vowed to support community radio in Jordan. The government spokesman reiterated the media reform vision of His Majesty King Abdullah which was best reflected in his statement that the sky is the limit for Jordan’s media.

Radio and television frequencies are a public trust that must be carefully and fairly distributed through a transparent process. The people of Zarqa and all other cities and communities in Jordan deserve the same opportunities for public interaction that the people of the capital Amman are now experiencing. Denying them this right seriously weakens the goal of social, economic and local government development. It also hurts ongoing decentralization efforts and attempts to stop the unhealthy movement of people to the capital area.

The decision by the same government for an application of a community radio in Zarqa by the once praised organization seriously erodes the commitments made to this international organization. The new Dahbi government and Minister Judeh who is now fully responsible for the media portfolio must work at reversing the decision and providing a transparent appeal process in order to restore confidence in the audio visual regulatory environment.

Daoud Kuttab is the license holder for Ammannet Radio and the applicant for the rejected Zarqa license. He is currently a Ferris Professor of Journalism at Princeton University. His email is

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