King Abdullah has launched a $140 million media project to build a television production and broadcast centre in Amman. The Free Media City Company, which was formed in January and officially inaugurated on 25 March, is a joint venture between the Jordanian government and the Jeddah-based Dallah Media Production Company. The new company will have paid-in capital of $14 million, rising to $140 million by the end of 2004, Tourism, Antiquities & Information Minister Taleb Rifai said in January.
The first stage of the project will involve the construction of studio facilities in Um Hairan, on the outskirts of Amman. Broadcasting companies based in the media city will benefit from freedom from censorship, and exemption from customs and tax payments.
Rome-based broadcasting station Arab Radio & Television (ART), which is owned by Dallah chairman Saleh Kamel, will be one of the first companies to be housed in the media city, Kamel said on 25 March. Formed in 1994 by Dallah Albaraka Groupand Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, ART has expanded rapidly to become one of the leading Arabic-language broadcasters, providing satellite, cable and pay-TV services to the Middle East, Europe, North and South America and Australasia.
The government is actively seeking foreign investment for the media centre. The director of the Free Media City Company, Radhi Alkhas, accompanied King Abdullah on a visit to Los Angeles in mid March to discuss possible distribution agreements with US production studios.
The idea of a media free zone in Jordan was first floated in 1999, but put on hold after Egypt and the UAE announced similar projects. The government amended press laws in October to widen the scope of prohibited reporting, and increased sentences for violators. In early March, authorities arrested a journalist and a former legislator on charges of printing material that defamed the government.
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