AudioVisual (Conditional-To-Who-You-Are) Commission
I always avoided any rapport with the AVC because I could never understand what they truly do. Within my domain, the AVC are the people who need to ‘approve’ audiovisual (AV) content for public screening. But if a screening is held through a gov entity, the content is exempt from having to be OKed by AVC. So they are kind of, sort of conditional regulators, depending on who they are regulating. hmmmm. Among a few other things of course!
So if you’re a gov broadcaster or a gov commission or a gov center, you can pretty much screen anything you want – the only censorship imposed on you is that which you self impose.
And if you’re a foreign center or a private entity and you want to screen a film for public, you get dragged thru hellish bureaucracy, your paperwork gets delayed, your reels stalled and you get treated like an imposing criminal wanting to poison society with ‘those’ films or 'that' content.
I must however take a moment to thank the AVC for the open environment in which the pirated AV stores are able to flourish and mushroom around town, and for a JD a pop keep me entertained with the latest movies. They are open 24/7, home deliver, return corrupt DVDs, give freebies for every stack, and are willing to source a list of titles you ask for, anytime, and will call you when the new arrive. Heaven.
BTW, I would much rather watch a movie in the theatre of course. I’ve been going to the movies weekly for as long as I can remember. While in Jordan, the only commercial theatres are in West Amman so far, and usually there is one movie to watch per week. On a good week, there are two. Once or twice a month there’s a movie to go to at a cultural center or some community space. Other than that there are the seasonal film fests, etc.
Anyway, so while at the Berlin Fest this past Feb, I participated in an Euromed AudioVisual conference which included a panel discussion on Fighting Piracy. I fought back my inclination to explore the streets of Berlin and skip this panel because the title itself by virtue is an oxymoron to me. I don’t believe there is such a thing as fighting piracy. I think we need to redefine the IP landscape and re-look at the book of copyright rules and learn more about Open Source and Creative Commons and find inspiring workable new solutions to this age old challenge.
But I did show up to the panel. Half way thru I started fidgeting and busting at the seams as the panelists delivered monolog after monolog in a bit of a delusional state. So I finally interjected and simply asked, “how is it practical or possible for a country like Jordan to even begin fighting AV piracy as per your discussion, when we gladly license pirated stores and have legal store fronts all over town? Furthermore, our academia encourages photocopied books and pirated software and unlicensed reproductions. And having said all this, frankly I don’t have a problem with it coz if this is the only way someone in Jordan can see a film, learn an application or read a book, well then it's very fine actually! Our distributors are lazy and lethargic, our policies are archaic, our governments deficient in the latest developments and our audiences hungry to know, see, try!”
Needless to say that derailed the whole panel and got us all engaged in a healthier debate, where other countries shared their piracy challenges, and we started to agree that it’s us, the content makers and copyright holders who must educate ourselves on how to find and embrace newer win-win solutions, rethinking financing and distribution. I was glad I threw that question in as at least the last half of the panel discussion came closer to reality and got us into a more progressive conversation. There was no conclusion of course, as there seldom is at such events.
Coffee break. I was looking forward to continuing the talk with one or two people whose argument intrigued me. But was startled when a very angry person in a very neat suit, tie and piercing blue eyes stuck his hand out to shake mine and in an irritated voice said in Jordanian Arabic “I’m the one who licenses the stores you mentioned”. So I said with an uneasy smile on my face, “Oh, cool, thank you for that”.
Well, he was very angry and started hurling his defense at my face, detaining me from getting to the coffee in the room next door. So I figured I’m stuffed, might as well do this. I relaxed my shoulders and looked at him intently making my way through his words.
He was saying more or less: “....What do you want me to do? I have to license them. They fill in the right paperwork, pay the fees, do everything that is needed. And they do get reported to the law. The National Library monitors. Inspectors are sent in to check their titles and we confiscate huge amounts. Their cases are sent to court. The judicial system is not helpful. They often let them off with a small fine and dismiss the case. They don’t understand the important work we do. They are busy worrying about other bigger legal issues. But we do report all these stores you mention, and go into their warehouses and destroy thousands of dinars worth of goods at times, but they all have ways to get around us because they are legally licensed stores ....”
By then I was zoned out totally, needing a caffeine fix, fresh air and a pair of boxing gloves!
I caught myself from passing out as I heard him say, “....and here’s my card, we should meet and talk more back in Amman”. And I thought, yeah, that’s exactly what I look forward to doing! You got it! But out loud I said, “Inshallah”.
So basically it sounds like the AV(C)C is into the business of entrapment. It seems they encourage the AV pirated stores to open, pay registration and fees, rent space, purchase furnishings, display their pirated wares, and then troops are sent in to come down on them and report them to the law. Plus... the Customs Department comes in and enforces customs due on products that are technically illegal, so in a way Customs Dept is legitimizing what another gov department is condemning as illegal.
More than a little bit fraught, no?
PS: When you bump into an AVC person next, ask them about their process for regulating the porn material that gets screened in some downtown run-down theatres. That's an interesting manual I bet!
a small medium @large
AudioVisual (Conditional-To-Who-You-Are) Commission
Torfa bin Sabbah Al Ammarin
Watch Al Ammarin talk about what's important to them, their nomadic lifestyle and what they miss.
This is a very roughly assembled few minutes I just found in a folder. Part of over 100 hrs of footage I've been documenting since 1996 on the culture and heritage of the bedu of the south of Jordan, mainly Petra and Wadi Rum areas. In this edit, stories of mythology and stories of the relationship of people and place are shared.
This material was shot in 2004.
Torfa still lives a 100% nomadic life in the mountains of Al Sharah. One of the most beautiful human beings you can meet in life. I'm lucky to know her for over 11 years now.
The saddest letter. ATV's managing director walks away in a personal farewell note that is heart wrenching, but leaves so much unsaid! (click on the letter for bigger/clearer view)
English translation on 7iber.com
And to track back the phenomena, read this interview with the ATV MD, just two months before his resignation. Things sure changed!!
And then came this letter from the Chairman of the Board on his way out (click on the letter for bigger/clearer view):
A reaction to my post on why we should be engaged in a wider conversation on the ATV fiasco:
"....I am in total agreement with every word you have here, but I am afraid that my sons will probably stay where they are, enjoying the beauty and free spirit of California!...."
And I wonder, maybe giving our kids a fair choice would be a better option. California or Jordan. hmmmmm... to choose or to run away?!
A few days ago I circulated this grim mailer to my mailing list. Here's the mailer, and posted below are the reactions that came in.
Dear friends, film lovers and strangers on this ever growing list,And this is what you replied to the above grim mailer thru reply emails and facebook msgs- almost all requested anonymity, so I'm randomly listing here as msgs come in:
My mailer this time round is not about the wonderful projects & filmmakers I’m working with, nor the amazing talent and work sprouting up around me. It’s not about awards, nor screenings with standing ovations. Shocking, I know!
This time it’s about a much bigger picture, and quite a grim one I’m afraid.
Around three years ago a private broadcasting station was encouraged to emerge in Jordan, where JTV was the only national broadcaster and in a dead end rut. For years and years, the barrage of content that infiltrates people’s screens and lives here is made by someone else, delivered by someone else, reflecting someone else. To date, Jordan does not have a broadcast media that reflects us.
Anyway... a mandate was initiated at the highest levels, engaging an existing private sector media player and the best consultants money can buy. A project was born that restored our faith in the future of media in Jordan, and brought back home from the region some of the most talented Jordanians working in the broadcast space.
This new station, ATV, started to build, hire, develop, create. Every now and then we’d hear of a few hurdles, a couple of missed deadlines, but in truth nothing I ever found dire, as this is inevitable for any media start up in a developing world with no professional resources, little to benchmark against, a public sector that really doesn’t get it, skeptic spectators, and an already apathetic potential audience.
Ready to go on air, about 50 days ago, ATV’s initiation was blocked from transmission. Today they continue to be engaged in an empty rhetoric with regulators, while relevant official media entities are dead silent. The word circulating is that this private sector station is being bought out by the Jordanian government, or a bunch of non-media related investors, or an ailing broadcaster, or a combination. Internally, people are in a dim place, confused and shocked. The talk around town is all rather arcane.
BTW, this note is my POV and I do not claim to have details of the full picture. And amidst all this, I wish I had a view from other sides, but unfortunately the other sides are in ‘no comment’ mode!
It seems I live in a country were a progressive free media is paid lip service, not much more. Although I won’t give up and will always say there’s so much work to be done, and we’ll keep doing what it takes, but in truth this fiasco is just a huge blow that sets us back decades - freedom of thought and expression is up against the business of fear, amnesia and anesthesia. Tough odds!
In an attempt to share what they’ve been producing, ATV placed some programs online on ikbis.com – most content is quite good - stories that most who are watching seem to care about and issues relevant to our life today. Being the critic I am, I’ve got my observations on presentation style, packaging and form of some of the shows, but I do understand that this evolves, given the chance. But in the final analysis, it’s the content that really matters, and it seems they’ve been thinking and doing in the right direction.
Read this tell-all interview with the ATV MD.
And check out the debate going on thru the comments link under the piece.
More to read addressing the issue:
Some of my previous posts
And of course on my Facebook!
Hope has been violated and the only way to gain it back is to address what has marred it, as one of the most encouraging human constants is our inherent need for inquiry and dialog - because to know is to keep asking!
1. Its complicated. But this is something I plan on not getting involved in at all.
2. You know this issue has been disturbing me too and I read an article yesterday in the Jordan Times which was not encouraging. It was bland hardly addressing the issue, as if it was just another usual telecom/AVC glitch. But it isn’t and who is addressing this issue? It might be worth sending another email urging everyone to write a polite but pressing letter (while copying the press) to:
- Chairman of the AVC
- Minister of ICT
- Mayor of Amman
- PM Office
- HM Office
3. Spot on. How sad.
4. Unfortunately this job is for the AVC (supposed arbitration), and the collective pressure of us low level people.
5. Swing by.
6. Maybe you should come over for a chat!!
7. So if I give you my two cents is it going to be broadcasted to your mailing list?
8. My group should be posting their opinions. I'm very frustrated on what's going on in the country.
9. Are you serious?!
10. Ma fi shughul...
11. It's complicated. There's a lot people don't know.
12. It's a personal thing between a very powerful office and the owners. Leave it be.
13. He's expressed his frustration from the both of them.
14. Leave it alone.
15. Forget about it. There's nothing anyone can do.
16. Why do you care so much?
17. They are persona non grata.
18. What we can do is seek to expose the truth, and then perhaps people can be angry enough to take some action or demand an explanation from those who ought to explain!
19. I find it very intriguing how Mohammad Alayyan is not talking and leaving Mohannad Khatib to deal with the media and the government officials.
20. I wish someone would go on the record about what deals are being cut behind the scenes right now!
21. Surely, the same ‘highest level’ can override all if the intention is true, real and genuine to establish an independent private broadcasting station
22. Don't bother, it's out of anyone's hands.
23. Who cares!
24. Are you seriously expecting to find a solution or answer?!
25. You're very right. So sad what you're saying.
26. Of course they should separate State & Media.
27. Why are you surprised that people don't want to make decisions? Nobody wants to be blamed for their actions. I bet you all the real details are not revealed to those who need to make an educated decision! They only have part of the facts. But what can you do.
28. Citizen's letter on 7iber.com
29. I have never been able to keep my mouth shut when I strongly believe in something. I am a fighter and it is what I do for a living. Welcome to the world of politics. If sources say no comment, then you are playing with fire and its bigger than you think which makes it even more disappointing. I have learned the very hard way when to quit at something and it truly and honestly sucks. Alayyan is the brain child behind ATV and is one of my favorite role models and I believe he has something many of us lack. The ability to take risks and create some outstanding businesses. He, as you said, brought everyone back to Jordan to work at ATV. That in itself is an accomplishment as Jordan is suffering a huge brain drain and we are especially losing our crestices. He is someone who forever outstands you and someone who forever fights for what he believes in. I believe finding out the truth in regards to this issue will really deflate all morale we have and wonder as you said how we will ever move forward.
30. It's not your battle. Leave it.
31. If I was an ATV employee I would check my options instead of sitting, twiddling my thumbs and waiting for someone else to dictate my career. Or I would just keep chugging along and do what I do and let the big dogs worry about their power games.
32. ...I am in total agreement with every word you have here, but I am afraid that my sons will probably stay where they are, enjoying the beauty and free spirit of California!...
33. Forget it. From day one they had a silent partner investing financially who was the Jordanian government, so were they ever really private?
34. I checked the website for the ATV station, and I think it provides (would have provided) a new and distinctive tone to Arab TV.
35. it's is a farce but mohannad asked us not to speak until things got clearer and now he's out.. and everything is confusing and frustrating and depressing but many people need the jobs and are just sort of waiting to see how these new owners are.. i think soon people will be talking but i think they want to see who will be running the show...in general though people furious esp now that mohannad is gone..he was amazing!! no onewill ever come close.. as for ownership it is obvious that it is personal more than political in the sense that MA is so with the system and married to the system and loves the system that it is doubtful the general policy will change but that is yet to be seen anyway..anyway everything is still cloudy... i just like to read what others are saying bec sometimes being on the outside looking in gives much more perspective.
36. ....well, the thing is that the previous management weren't that frank with us...i mean until now we dont know what really happened...we just hear the news like everybody else in the city...u know how much i'm pissed about the whole thing...but u cant risk ur job for a cause that ur blind to...what if it was a hoax that we were part of...yeah i know it sounds like a lame conspiracy theory crap but come on "everything is possible"! land of wonders...
37. I have taken time to answer you because I was wondering what could I answer. This situation is spreading everywhere. Personnaly I have suffered so deeply through what my film went through, and I do not know how much people
realise the damage that is being done. All I can say is that you have to keep doing, and it is going to be more and
more difficult for a long time, but we cannot stop trying.
Whichever way I look at it, it’s just ludicrous and confusing, but most of all just plain scandalous:
– A new industry player.
– A juvenile-paperwork-pissing-match.
– Managment or the lack of or mere confusion.
– Financial and investor murky waters, a lost numbers game.
– Business as usual of a media start up.
– A board and investors that came and went before they did.
– A state of the art technological and technical set up.
– 300+ on payroll.
– Layoffs, and lengthy paid leaves, over and over.
– A weird silence.
– A roar of quiet fear.
– Hundreds of hours of produced programming, and many more hundreds on the front door and in the planning – just sitting there.
– An AVC who seems to be an obstacle rather than an industry welcomer - or maybe just a pathetic pawn to front some distraction
– A Higher Council of Media with amnesia.
– A JRTV in a rut, fluttering any which way
– Alleged positioning as a ‘private’ broadcaster, while…
– ...rumors of financial take over by the Jordanian Government with a new company being formed.
– Vision and proof of performance displayed on ikbis.com/atv
– What sounds like a genuine word from the MD: The Untelevised Revolution on 7iber.com
– An anesthetized marketplace.
– An apathetic potential target audience (generally speaking).
– A business opportunity, missed.
– A double standard take on a pledge towards more progressive and free media.
– A psychological and industry set back.. so many yards, so many years.
– A shrug of the shoulder by those in the know.
– An insult to the intellect of humankind.
and on and on and on…
I don’t think I know a word or sequence of words to describe this situation. Confusing! Curious! Strange! Scandalous! Embarrassing! Wrong! Worrisome! Disappointing! Scarey! Sad! Angering! Pathetic!
We really should address this from the depths of our souls and senses, truly. It’s not something we can sweep under the carpet. This is going to scar us for a long while. We owe it to ourselves to raise the bar of dialog and debate! If we can’t be part of fixing what’s broken, we can for sure emerge more learned! But paralysis and numbness should not be an option! Not this time.
And while addressing this, a fundamental to keep in mind is to separate board room power struggles/financial woes from the content/creative operation.
Over the past couple days, a dear friend and I attempted to engage in a dialog on the ATV situation (which for all I care they could be XYZ, but right now it is what it is).
This is my take to the issue he labelled as 'the hot potato'. In an email this morning I wrote:
My gut tells me the inside scoop is so pathetic and vile that it would make me puke violently if I knew it all. I have a weak gag reflex!
But the outside scoop is far more important and critical than the inside one I think. The year is 2007. We are a country without a national broadcaster that reflects us. We continue to struggle to engage our youth, communities, orgs, in action, whether it’s fixing the neighborhood, education, voting, empowering communities, offering loans, gifts, finding and being proud of identity, joining the workforce, etc, etc, etc.. and the intellectual space we compete with is a barrage of content that infiltrates people’s homes and lives, made by someone else, delivered by someone else, reflecting someone else. Let alone the industry boat we’re missing from not having local broadcasters who can employ, commission, buy, sell, grow the landscape and help shape an economy we are in dire need of – a creative economy!
If this hot potato fiasco is an internal mismanaged/mishandled set up... there are solutions for that, and it’s business as usual. If there is a take-over, hostile or friendly, again there are solutions and it’s business as usual. If in the past three years someone forgot to keep track and things fell thru the cracks, guess what, there are solutions for that and again, it’s business as usual. But we cannot cripple something just when it’s about to move it’s second foot. We are amazing at vision, headlines, mandates, initiatives and business plans endorsed by the best advisors and consultants money can buy. We suck at implementation. We suck at continuity. We suck at evaluation. We suck at revision. We suck at reflection. We suck at accountability.
If ‘they’ don’t want to let this station on air so that this station can be properly evaluated on it’s performance, then we are short sighted, myopic and just plain stupid. If ‘they’ don’t want to let this station on air so that audiences and advertisers and producers make up their own minds about whether or not this content matters, then this is a police state and you just screwed your son by telling him, “yes daddy, go study film because there is career potential and an industry that welcomes you when you get back.” You just screwed him big time! Because tomorrow your son comes home and finds:
- There are no broadcasters to produce for.
- There are no cinemas nationwide to produce for.
- There is no audience.
- There is no community who cares for any of this because it has become so desensitized from content brainwashing of the ‘other’.
- There is censorship to keep dodging, albeit in ever evolving creative ways.
- There is 90% effort being put into how we can bend the archaic rules before we can begin the real work.
- There is an entire region illiterate in multimedia.
Welcome home son!
But then there is an internet that breaks every rule. Jordanians and Arabs in general are still terrified of dumping online, but this is going to explode and implode soon – on your computer and mobile screens - any screen. And no one can stop that. Some of it is going to be negative and critical. Some of it is going to be positive and progressive. Some of it will be good entertainment, some bad. But most importantly it’s going to be about absolute freedom of thought and expression.
Today, you and I can exchange the most amazing content back and forth in words, pictures and sound, and no one has to know nor can they stop us. You and I can engage in a peer-to-peer learning process where we inspire each other, motivate and support each other, without needing a formal system to let us do it. You and I thru our email, blogs, networks, mobile and face to face can today grow this into engaging a wider network of people who continue to learn, explore, do, make mistakes, fix and grow, all the while our governments flush down the drains massive budgets and resources as they try to engage us back into a national system. A system crippled from it's dependency on aid rather than it's natural resources - it's people and their intellectual abilities and that which they create.
It’s going to become so messy that we’re going to need millions of social entrepreneurial programs and a fund for 200million young minds, to contain and fix things, and even then there will be so much damage done, so once again we be will consumed in the catch-up game rather than the progressive one we aspire for. Do the math on: Education. IT. Political parties. Unions. Media. Culture. Knowledge economy.
What happens when we fail to act? Surely there’s a price to pay for remaining still, and for not getting up. So in this specific hot potato related issue, maybe we owe it to ourselves and each other to be engaged and create a wider dialog, rather than enjoy front row seats in a bad spectator sport because we have free tickets and are anaesthetized. And maybe our duty is to create a space where media workers are fed from their communities and in turn feed them back, rather than us contorting reality and sheltering our kids in incubators within good looking gated communities that fool them and then must eject them out to make space for the next batch.
Yassmina is exploring what to do for college next year. Liberal Arts? Film? Art? Sociology? etc.. all the questions that are her right to ask at this important time in her life. When she asked me, I formulaically gave her a ten-word answer, connected her with the ‘right’ schools to look at with good programs in liberal arts, social entrepreneurship, the arts, media studies, etc.
But now I think I screwed her. I misled her, making her believe there is something for her to come back to in a few years. I led her to believe there is a social fabric that empowers, something that will nurture her, allowing her to continue being enlightened, take risks and want to give back. It’s a lie. And you know what? It shouldn’t be her job to come back from school and clean up the mess we are consciously creating, while knowing better! What I should really be telling her is to study space exploration – because we won’t be able to hand over to her a world she deserves, so she might as well start looking at one that may be more conducive somewhere else in this universe!
But that’s just my thinking - worth a fils on a positive morning my friend!
We need ATV and we need another host of stations to go on air, so that a wide variety of programming reflects us in all our factions and diversity. But if the investment portfolio of media includes cases at hand like JTV, ATV, Media City, and the handful of stations airing 'stuff' that is poor and insulting while broadcasting it out of a hole in the wall thru a playlist less sophisticated than my free media player, well then this is a sad state of business affairs.
Watch this space for my AudioVisual Commission rant! Back in March I posted this note.