Capital, New City, or Investment Project: Conflicting Government Accounts in Media


AKEED, Anwar Ziadat

The government"s announcement of a new city, whether through direct statements to the media or in meetings held by Prime Minister Hani Mulki and the ministers, has opened the door wide to criticism, which focused mainly on the way the government has managed this issue in the media. Likewise, the government"s economic performance and the timing of the announcement were both criticized.

Between 22 October and 2 November, the Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) monitored more than 600 media items published by news websites and daily newspapers on the project of the "new city."

Story of New City

The first announcement by the government on establishing a new city was made on 22 October by Prime Minister Hani Mulki during a meeting held at the Prime Ministry, with the participation of directors from the official media, the president of the Jordan Press Association, chief editors of daily newspapers, representatives of local satellite channels, and managers and writers of the economic sector. The ministers of planning and international cooperation, media, finance, industry and trade, and the minister of state for investment affairs attended the meeting. 

Mulki said that the government had finalized the master plan of the new city of Amman to be the new capital. This is in view of the existence of chronic municipal problems in Amman, including sanitation and transportation. Implementation will begin next year on a build-operate-transfer (BOT) basis to set up government buildings in five phases.

This government announcement, made through Mulki"s statements, was vague. It was simply a short report about an important issue, but it lacked details and raised many questions. This has intrigued public opinion and led media outlets to enter a race to provide more information about this issue. Meanwhile, social media has turned into an arena for airing expectations and sometimes offering sarcastic comments about the subject. This has reflected on the performance of the local media.

On 26 October, Dr. Mohammed Momani, minister of state for media affairs and official spokesman for the Jordanian government, said that the master plans of the new capital, which Prime Minister Dr. Hani Mulki revealed, would be ready for implementation over several stages in the future. He added that the establishment of the new capital would be in partnership with the private sector since the situation of the treasury does not enable the government to accomplish such a huge project on its own and that it would not be within the boundaries of the Amman governorate. Meanwhile, government and official departments will be transferred to it.

Momani said that the new capital would be implemented in five phases and would not be an extension of the old capital. There will be a distance between the two; it is not a suburb attached to Amman. The capital will be implemented and financed with the help of the private sector.

Momani later told Ro"ya TV, during an interview with Nabd al-Balad talk show on Saturday evening, that no one knew the place where the project of the new city of Amman would be except four or five people. He added that he personally did not know the place of the project.

Afterwards, Dr. Mamdouh Abbadi, minister of state for Prime Ministry affairs, denied knowing the location of the new city of Amman, which the government intends to build in partnership with the private sector. He added that the government did not have the money to set up projects. However, the private sector is the one that will invest in government land where the new city will be established. 

Abbadi refused to consider the new city as a new capital of Jordan, saying: "There is no alternative to Amman, which has ancient history dating back 7,000 years." Some websites carried the headline "Abbadi Denies Mulki"s Statements About New Capital Replacing Amman."

On Saturday, 29 October, Mulki met with the presidents of public and private universities at the Prime Ministry. He told them that "the new city being considered outside the capital, Amman, is within the government"s efforts to stimulate the economy and attract qualitative investments." He confirmed that it would be set up on state-owned land and was largely surrounded by state-owned land. He said that "the project constitutes a great investment opportunity for the private sector. It is a strategic project, which is within the context of applying the concept of modern cities whose construction helps to revive the economy."

News websites quoted MP Mutaz Abu Rumman as saying that he had asked Amman Mayor Dr. Yousef Shawarbeh about the location of new Amman and that the mayor had answered him that he did not know and that he was surprised at the news. Abu Rumman said: If the Amman mayor does not know about the subject, then who knows about it?

Reports on City

Sparse official statements about the new city, questions by citizens, and media curiosity created a positive journalistic situation in which numerous media outlets and news websites tried to answer the questions pertaining to the issue, such as geographic location, financial allocation, timing, aim, and others. These reports include the following: "Full Details of "New Amman" Project," "New Information About "New Amman,"" "New Amman…90 KM to the South," "Varying Opinions of New Amman," "New Capital 90 KM South of Amman," and "Jordanians Trying To Solve Mystery of New Amman."

Op-Ed Writers

Op-ed writers have paid a great deal of attention to the new city. It is noticeable that some writers depended on predictions and visions that might not be accurate. Occasionally, commentaries were based on undocumented information and viewpoints by experts, and sometimes statements by members of the government team that proved to be inaccurate.

Here, we refer to some of the pieces published by the media, including "Yes, We Want New Amman as Capital," "Opportunities and Threats of Proposed New Capital of Jordan," "Guess the Answer…New Amman and the Five People Who Know Its Location," and "The New Capital." One commentary established a link between the new capital and the political situation under the headline "New Capital of Jordan: Security Measures or Modern Way To Let Jordanian Identity Melt?"

Satirical Criticism

Social media pages have been rife with satirical criticism of the government statements on the project itself as a project. Occasionally, government statements to the media on the project were mocked. News websites referred to this derision on many occasions by citing brief paragraphs from reports. On other occasions, commentaries and other items reflected this.

A comment that circulated on social media said that one of the benefits of the new capital is that it brought out "the talents of the official spokesman" and his "sense of humor," which made people "forget the question of bread, raising prices of foodstuffs, electricity theft, BRT, and so many other things." The hashtag #new_capital and #new_Amman dominated posts on Twitter. The issue was sometimes tackled sarcastically.

Also, several cartoons were published on this subject, using captions such as: "Equation of New Capital Baffles Einstein," "Where Is New Capital Located?" "Hidden Amman," "New Capital," "New Capital: Where Is It?"  

Capital or New City

The first announcement made by the prime minister used the words "new Amman" and "new capital." Afterwards, Mohammed Momani, minister of state for media affairs, used the words "new capital." Then, Dr. Mamdouh Abbadi, minister of state for Prime Ministry affairs, denied the existence of a new Amman or a new capital. Finally, Mulki used the words "new city" and denied that it would be a new capital.

Moreover, it is noticeable that the media confused commentaries with reports. Consider the following examples: "New Capital…Concept Dozens of Countries Have Already Adopted, But It Requires Further Clarification," "Mulki Raises Storm Because of "New Capital" and Vagueness Reigns Supreme," "What Is New Amman and Where Is It Located?" and "Jordanian Citizens: New Capital Big Lie." In many reports, writers of news content depended on personal opinions. Here, balance and neutrality were missing.

AKEED has observed that many reports occasionally attributed opinions to experts without naming them. This is not in keeping with media traditions. Experts usually present a neutral and logical scientific opinion and do not reveal secrets. Withholding the names of experts makes readers suspect that the information is incorrect or that it was copied from another report. The ethics of the profession were not observed by not attributing this information to the person who said it and to its secondary source, which is the media outlet from which it was taken.

On some occasions, press reports and items lacked accuracy and credibility since they relied on inaccurate information in the first place, predictions by experts, or sources that are uninformed about the details of the project. Such information was reported as facts.

MP Nabil Gheishan, who is former chief editor of Al Arab Al Youm newspaper, told the Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) that "one of the problems of governments is that they do not set great store by the media, whether it is its own media or other media outlets in general. They do not treat the media in a meaningful way because of the lack of true faith in the role of the media."

On the question of new Amman, Gheishan says: "There is no story in the first place; this is just an idea that has been circulating since the time of former prime ministers. It is a project that needs billions, while the government is unable to provide 50 million dinars to meet some necessities." He indicated that "the project is not serious. What is happening is an attempt by the government to distract attention."  He added: "No one believes the government." He said that the announcement of this project "has had a negative effect on the economic situation in general, such as investments and land prices."

Majid Tawbah, editor of local news in the daily newspaper Al Ghad, told the AKEED Monitor: "The idea has not been clear right from the start. It was within a new and brief context, without paying much attention to the format of the announcement despite the importance of the subject." He added: "The story reinforces confusion due to the lack of official information. Besides, some government officials who should address the issue publicly do not have sufficient information."

He added that "such a story strengthens the notion that citizens have no confidence in the government. The government must not be satisfied with this lack of confidence; it must improve official rhetoric, bear responsibility, and demonstrate self-confidence." He noted that these elements could restore some sort of confidence in official rhetoric. He urged the government to provide sufficient information and think positively by maintaining contacts with the public.