Waiting for ATV

The launch of Jordan's ATV has been on hold for a year now. The delay has put over 200 ATV employees in limbo, and killed their dreams of being part of what had been touted as Jordan's first independent TV station. Our Amman correspondent joined the employees in a sit-in on Monday.
Jordan, ATV sit-in. © Oula Farawati
ATV employees have vowed to continue a daily sit-in outside the station until their demands are met. © Oula Farawati

AMMAN, July 8, 2008 (MENASSAT) - Jordan's ATV saga has become a stain on Jordan's media history.

Billed as Jordan's first progressive satellite station in a tightly controlled media landscape where government watchdogs have near total control of what people hear and see, ATV has effectively been killed before ever seeing the light of day.

Some of ATV's over 200 employees told MENASSAT at a sit-in outside the station on Monday how their career dreams were shattered by the ongoing battle between the government and the station's management.

The employees have not been paid for the past three months, but they are required to show up at work every day from 9 a.m. till 6 p.m. or risk being disciplined or let go.

"We have been suffering for almost a year because of this standstill," journalist Hadeel Ghaboon told MENASSAT.

"My entire career has been frozen. I am financially strapped and if I start again somewhere else, I will have to start from scratch," said Ghabbon, who had two years of experience working for the daily newspaper Al Arab AlYawm before agreeing to work with ATV.

She said she left Al Arab AlYawm seeking a better professional opportunity, "but all I can think of now is leaving the country."

Power struggle

Last year, the Jordanian authorities pulled the plug on ATV just hours before its official launch, in what was seen as an attempt to inflict maximum damage on the owner of the station, Mohammad Olayyan.

Olayyan also owns the daily Al-Ghad and the classifieds weekly Al-Waseet.  Sources told MENASSAT that the move against Olayyan was part of a power struggle within the government.

On Monday, government spokesman Nasser Judeh visited the sit-in tent. He tried to absolve the government of any responsibility for the station's troubles, saying that a settlement with station management was imminent.

ATV originally bought broadcasting rights from Jordan Television's Channel 2. But recently the station was sold for 15 million JD ($21m) to what sources described to MENASSAT as an "out of-the-blue" company called "Wonders for TV Production."

The new company originally said the launch would take place within few weeks after the sale, but it never materialized.

Recently, rumors have surfaced that the station would be sold once again to the Arab Center for Media Production (ACMP). Talal Awamleh, ACMP's CEO, visited a previous sit-in by ATV employees and assured them that they would be paid, and that the station would start its official programming very soon.

Government spokesman Judeh confirmed that the station would be sold again soon, and that talks are underway with a private sector investor interested in buying the station. He  did not name  the bidder.

Caught in the cross-fire

On Monday, the ATV employees said they would stage a daily sit-in from now on until their demands are met.

"We're not asking for a lot. We need to get paid and we need to know when the station will start broadcasting," Marwan Tamimi, a news correspondent with ATV, told MENASSAT.

Parliamentarians, Labor Ministry officials and representatives from many civil institutions also visited the sit-in tent on Monday. No promises were made as journalists sat on plastic chairs in the tent erected in front of the premises of the station in the upscale neighborhood of Um Summaq.

"The main problem is that this station is headless," Majid Tobeh, a member of Jordan's Journalists Association Council, told MENASSAT.

"We were hoping that this project would advance Jordan's media industry and breathe fresh air into the media scene that is dominated by the government," Tobeh said.

In Jordan, the government owns high shares in Jordan's major dailies, Al Rai and Ad Dustour, and it has full control over Jordan Radio and Jordan Radio and Television Corporation (JRTVC). Many said the stoppage of ATV was because the authorities cannot handle a progressive TV station with a wide public reach.

"For me, I think all this nonsense is a cover-up for the fact that ATV is being forced to accept to lower the quality of its programs and divert the content away from tackling controversial social, economic and political issues that are not allowed to be discussed on JRTV and other official media outlets," columnist Bater Wardam wrote on his blog, Jordan Watch.

Mohammad Hamdan, a news correspondent with ATV, said he felt his employment with ATV came down to a form of "house arrest."

"This problem has killed our career and affected it forever," he said.

"We have been coming to work 9-to-6 for two years now just to do drink tea and coffee all day. We have been under extreme pressure and many of us can't even afford to come to work anymore because they don't have the money for the taxi."