The state plays a central role in the Jordanian media industry, operating three of the country’s major TV channels and owning several newspaper publishers. But private schemes flourish as well. In 2011 a private Amman-based and Jordan-oriented satellite television channel began broadcasting. In addition, the private sector operates most of the radio stations in the kingdom, and the rapid growth of online publications is increasing the diversity of voices in the local media mix (see analysis). Given supporting factors, such as the country’s well-educated workforce, the country has the potential to emerge as a regional centre for content production and training.
PRINT MEDIA: While the government does not assess and publish print media circulation statistics, global market research firm Ipsos covers the Jordanian market and releases statistics on a commercial basis. Figures in 2009 published by the International Research and Exchanges Board, an NGO that focuses on media and education, identified Al Rai as the country’s leading newspaper, with circulation of between 60,000 and 80,000. Al Ghad followed with 45,000-50,000, and Al Doustour with roughly 30,000. Speaking to OBG in March 2012, Samir Barhoum, editor-in-chief of the English-language daily, estimated Al Rai’s circulation to be 80,000-100,000, with each copy read by five people on average. Circulation of the Jordan Times currently stands at around 10,000, Barhoum told OBG.
Al Rai and the Jordan Times are both published by the Jordan Press Foundation (JPF), which is the country’s largest newspaper group. The state-run Social Security Corporation holds a 60% stake in the organisation. JPF also publishes a children’s magazine called Hatem and, as with most major local newspaper companies, operates a commercial printing press that produces books and magazines. In March 2012 the firm said that a new commercial facility that will include a new state-of-the-art printer at Al Rai’s printing complex would be completed in the near future. JPF posted revenues of JD24.1m ($33.9m) in 2011, down 7% year-on-year from 2010.
Most other major newspapers are also government-operated, with the exception of Al Ghad, Jordan’s first major independent newspaper, which was founded in 2003 by entrepreneur Mohammad Elayyan. Other major dailies include Alarab Alyawm and Al Sabeel.
The largest player in the local magazine market is Al Faridah for Specialised Publishing. The company publishes ten magazines, mostly in English. Among the firm’s publications is Layalina, an Arabic-language glossy that covers the Jordanian social scene and is the most popular magazine in the country, according to Al Faridah. The second-most-popular magazine is children’s publication Hatem, which is published by the JPF.
Al Faridah is a member of the Al Arabia Trade and Consulting Group of Companies, which also includes radio media sales specialist Al Kawn Advertising, web development firm dot.jo, weekly classifieds newspaper Al Waseet, and four radio local stations: Radio Fann FM, Radio Rotana FM, and Energy 97.7 FM.
TIGHTER BELT: Qais Elias, managing director of JO Publishing, said that current conditions are difficult for the magazine segment. “Jordanian magazines tend to rely more on advertising revenues than sales, and since the advertising market is low at the moment, this makes it difficult for titles to survive,” he told OBG. “Five years ago, the printing press we use was printing around 30 magazines a month; today that has fallen to 18.” Given the conditions, investments in the segment are on pause. “There is great demand for more Arabic-language magazines, but at this time the advertising market is too uncertain to invest in new titles,” Elias told OBG in March 2012. Nevertheless, he said that at the end of the year, his company intended to re-evaluate opportunities to expand its portfolio of publications. Elias also noted that the limited audience of local television channels – and consequently, their limited appeal to local advertisers (see Advertising overview) – will be good for the print media segment over the long term. “As long as TV advertising remains limited in Jordan, there will be budget for print media,” he argued.
BROADCAST MEDIA: The kingdom has three terrestrial TV channels, all run by the state broadcaster, Jordan Radio and Television Corporation (JRTV). These include the generalist network Channel One, the sports-focused Channel Two and film station Channel Three. The broadcaster also operates a satellite station called Jordan Satellite Channel, and is planning to launch three new high-definition (HD) channels by the end of 2012.
Television is the dominant media in Jordan in terms of audience. According to a survey by Ipsos, 82% of Jordanians consume news via TV, followed by 7% who use radio and the internet, and 3% who read newspapers. In the survey, 74% of Jordanians rated television as the most trusted and reliable source of information, followed internet (8%) newspapers (3%) and radio. However, domestic stations have a limited audience.
Satellite penetration is very high, reaching up to 96% according to some figures, and the Jordanian television market is heavily dominated by pan-Arab channels like the Dubai-based Middle East Broadcasting Centre (MBC) and Qatari news network Al Jazeera, rather than local channels. Regional networks have significantly larger budgets than Jordanian TV channels, and Jordanians also seem to prefer watching foreign soap operas. Shows from Egypt, with its well-established film industry, are particularly popular. More recently, soap operas from Syria have also been gaining in popularity over Jordanian programmes. “Some locally focused shows like domestic news are popular, but for entertainment viewers tend to turn to the bigger-budget regional channels,” Jawad J Abbassi, the founder and general manager of Arab Advisers Group, told OBG.
ROLLERCOASTER TO FREEDOM: An independent Amman-based satellite channel, the news-focused ATV, was to begin broadcasting in 2007, but the government halted its launch shortly before it was scheduled to go live, citing technical and administrative issues. The company was established by Mohammad Elayyan, who aimed to repeat his success in founding independent newspaper Al Ghad by establishing the country’s first independent television channel. Elayyan sold the station in 2007 to Al Ajayeb for Investments Company, before it was resold to the Arab Telemedia Group (ATG), a Jordanian television production company, in 2008. In 2010 the government announced that it was considering purchasing ATV; however, later that year it halted negotiations on the acquisition, citing an inability to reach an agreement on the purchase price. In September 2011 the National Guidance Committee of the Council of Representatives (lower parliament) called on the government to allow ATV to begin broadcasting, saying the station could create as many as 400 jobs, but the future of the channel remains unclear.
A number of industry figures criticise of the lack of diversity and quality of television in Jordan, blaming state restrictions. Some fear that the problems that have bedevilled ATV may deter other stations from trying to follow in its path. “The failure of ATV was perhaps a worrying message to investors,” Abeer Al Najjar, dean of the Jordan Media Institute (JMI), told OBG.
That said, in a major shake-up for the domestic television segment, a new Jordan-focused commercial satellite channel, Al Roya (meaning “vision”) TV, began broadcasting from Amman on January 1, 2011. Unlike ATV’s news-focused aims, Al Roya’s programming is presently geared towards entertainment, with little news or current affairs content. The channel, owned by Jordanian conglomerate Sayegh Group, has embraced internet technology in addition to its satellite broadcast. Viewers can also live stream programming via the channel’s website and watch many of its shows on YouTube, with the channel’s permission.
QUALITATIVE GAINS: Al Roya’s entry into the market is having a significant impact and augurs well for the segment’s development. “The quality of programming at Al Roya is high, suggesting a strong future for Jordanian television,” said Zaidoun Karadsheh, managing director and partner at animation firm Sketch in Motion. Furthermore, while local television stations have struggled to compete with pan-Arab and regional channels, industry figures say the situation is improving in some segments and see a shift in regional trends towards more locally focused content. “Previously there was a high dependency on Al Jazeera for even local news,” said Al Najjar. “But Jordanian channels are becoming increasingly competitive. Pan-Arab media is also starting to produce more country-specific content, for which there is a great need. For example, MBC Egypt is being established and MBC Jordan should follow soon, with a mix of both pan-Arab and locally tailored programming.”
MBC and Al Jazeera’s respective stables of news and entertainment channels are considered to be amongst the most popular satellite networks in Jordan. However, recent trends suggest that other media outlets are gaining popularity, especially since the outbreak of regional uprisings in early 2011. According to a BBC survey, viewing figures for the corporation’s BBC Arabic news channel grew strongly in 2011, attaining a weekly audience share in Jordan of 22.4% at the end of 2011, compared to 8.8% in 2010.
Arab countries, including Jordan, have agreed to fully switch over to digital terrestrial broadcasting by 2015, when analogue transmission will be turned off. The Telecommunications Regulatory Commission (TRC) is currently examining the issue of the “digital dividend” (that is, what to do with the frequencies freed up by the end of analogue broadcasts and the switch to digital) as part of a twinning programme with EU telecommunications regulators (see Telecoms chapter).
AIRWAVES: The broadcasting segment is regulated by the Audio-Visual Media Law of 2002, which opened up the radio market. Following the segment’s liberalisation, there are now over 26 radio stations in operation, most of them privately owned, broadcasting in both Arabic and English. Radio broadcasts are mainly entertainment- and music-oriented, giving only limited focus to news and politics. This is partly because licences for news broadcasts cost twice as much as those for entertainment programming. Al Arabia claims that its Radio Fann FM is the country’s number one station, and that another of its channels, Radio Rotana FM, is the most popular radio station in Amman.
HUMAN CAPITAL: “Journalism in Jordan got going earlier than in the Gulf, and as a consequence the industry is quite mature by regional standards,” said the JMI’s Al Najjar. Industry figures say that as a result of this, local journalists and media professionals are well regarded and are heavily represented within regional and pan-Arab media. “Jordan is exporting talent; staff working in production for Gulf channels in particular are disproportionately or even mostly Jordanian,” Karadsheh of Sketch in Motion told OBG.
Although this reflects well on the industry and country as a whole, the high demand for Jordanian staff can create problems in terms of the local availability of qualified personnel, as is the case in a number of other industries in the kingdom, such as IT. “Retaining staff is a challenge for the Jordanian media,” said Al Najjar. “Packages are modest compared to even smaller media outlets in Gulf states, and the brightest Jordanian journalists therefore tend to move abroad and to the pan-Arab channels in particular.”
PREPARING THE PRESS: A number of training institutions are working to improve human capital standards in the industry. A strong example is the Jordan Media Institute (JMI), an NGO founded in 2008 by Princess Rym Ali, who herself has worked as a journalist for outlets such as CNN. JMI provides media education and training services and emphasises digital media. Its services are offered to journalists from Jordan and the wider region. In cooperation with the University of Jordan, in 2010 the JMI launched an Arabic-language master’s programme in journalism and new media based on the curriculum of Columbia University’s journalism master’s degree. The programme’s second graduating class received its diplomas in November 2011. The organisation also offers other practical training courses to working journalists. “JMI was founded to answer the need for better training in the best international practices for Arabic-speaking journalists who may not speak English or be able to afford to study abroad,” Al Najjar told OBG. Almost all students from the JMI’s first master’s programme class are now employed, at both Jordanian and regional pan-Arab outlets, said Al Najjar. “Middle Eastern media outlets are eager for Arabic-speaking journalists trained and equipped to work in new media,” she told OBG. JMI hopes to expand its master’s programme intake to around 100 students a year within five years, though she says that maintaining quality will be the central focus.
Al Najjar says that journalism is becoming ever more professional in Jordan and is an increasingly well-regarded career choice, something that the organisation aims to promote. “Journalism is a relatively new career path here and was previously regarded as a stepping stone to other careers, such as politics. People are now starting to seek a full career in the profession,” she told OBG. “Previously, many journalists began careers in the field without a journalism degree, but there’s a shift under way that encourages an academic qualification.” The same applies to other positions in the sector, such as content production. “Audio-visual media is becoming a viable and even promising career choice in Jordan. Parents that previously only wanted their children to become doctors or engineers are starting to encourage them to work in the industry,” said Karadsheh.
Another Amman-based entity that, amongst other activities, provides training for journalists from both the kingdom and the wider region is Arab Reporters for Investigative Journalism (ARIJ). In November 2011 the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA) awarded the organisation a $3m grant. ARIJ, which was founded in 2005 and operates in nine Arab countries, held its fourth annual conference in the Jordanian capital in December 2011.
PRESS FREEDOM & REGULATORY ISSUES: Despite a number of challenges, including self-censorship, a misunderstanding of the role of the media on the part of both journalists and the government, and questions over the implementation of the laws in place, industry figures say that the regulatory framework for the press is by and large satisfactory. In addition, issues such as self-censorship are becoming less of a problem as a result of regional political dynamics. “The local media has been pushing the envelope quite a lot in regards to freedom of speech in response to regional events,” said Al Najjar. “The whole atmosphere is changing.”
CONTENT PRODUCTION: As in other technology-driven industries, there are major export opportunities for Jordanian media content producers in the Arab world and beyond. “There is a large need for Arabic-language content in the regional media sector,” said Sketch in Motion’s Karadsheh. The company was born in 2007 when Karadsheh’s web company, Media Plus, realised there was major demand for Arabic-language cartoons. Karadsheh says that Sketch in Motion is expanding rapidly and may soon overtake Media Plus, founded four years prior, in terms of both revenue and staff. Sketch in Motion currently produces an Arabic-language cartoon called Al Masageel, about a Bedouin tribe, for the MBC channel. The first series of the cartoon was broadcast daily during Ramadan in 2011, and work on a new series to be shown during the holy month in 2012 is under way, with episode length to be doubled to 10 minutes. “We began working with Jordanian TV but found the sector to be limited in terms of audience, so we shifted our focus to the Gulf,” said Karadsheh.
Potential export markets for the sector are not limited to the Middle East, as demonstrated by the success of another Jordanian firm active in the animation segment, Rubicon Group Holding (RGH), which has 300 staff members working at offices in Amman, Dubai, Los Angeles and Manila. The firm works with a range of international companies and has a partnership with MGM to produce Pink Panther cartoons.
“Rubicon’s growth demonstrates the major potential Jordan has to become a centre for animation,” said Karadsheh of Sketch in Motion. “India, for example, is doing billions of dollars of work in animation, and as a whole the industry presents an enormous opportunity.” However, challenges include the large amount of investment needed, which can be difficult to find in Jordan given constraints on financing and the limited opportunities for locally commissioned content. “Jordanian television simply cannot compete with the likes of MBC,” said Karadsheh. “Animation costs a lot, and there are few local advertisers willing to pay large sponsorship fees for programmes here.”
OUTLOOK: The future profitability of the sector will depend heavily on the fortunes of the advertising market, which, in turn, will depend on the performance of the broader economy. Although regional channels appear set to continue dominating the Jordanian television market, the launch of Al Roya bodes well for further development of domestic channels. At the same time, pan-Arab channels are focused on developing locally tailored content in response to high demand.
Online media is expected to continue rapidly increasing in popularity and will become a profit-making industry as internet penetration rates rise, helping to improve diversity of content. In particular, the production and animation of content – areas which are benefitting from Jordan’s high educational standards and IT expertise – are becoming promising areas for investment.