AKEED, Anwar Ziadat
Headlines and stories on assaults on investors and their protection have received extensive coverage in local media outlets over the past two months. Government interest in this issue has been clearly reflected in the reporting.
Media outlets have focused on two parallel tracks. The first track involves the violations committed against investors, such as assault, extortion, and fraud. The second involves the reactions of the government, issued by the prime minister and concerned officials, as well as the positions and attitudes of the relevant parties.
The Jordanian Media Credibility Monitor (AKEED) has been following media accounts of violations against investors, including physical attacks, extortion, swindling, fraud, and robbery. The table below shows the violations committed against investors as published in the media over the past two months:
The table shows that there were 10 cases reported by the media involving investors. These are broken down as follows: Four cases of physical attack, three cases of extortion, one case of fraud, one case of swindling, and one case of robbery. Six of them were announced by a security source, two cases by two personal sources, one by a governmental source, and one by a parliamentary source.
Out of the 10 cases involving investors, the assault on the manager of an Indian factory in Madaba and the assault on the deputy manager of the Chinese project for expanding Al Hussein Thermal Power Plant, who is a Chinese national, received the most attention from the media.
It was reported in the news that the owner of a private transport company assaulted the manager of Al Safi garment factory in the town of Mleih in Madaba, which is owned by an Indian investor, because he did not award him a bid to transport more than 450 workers of one of the factories. The attack on the factory manager set off a government campaign to protect investors. The media played an important part in the campaign and reflected government ideas and attitudes in this context.
While reporting on this issue, media outlets committed the mistake of inaccuracy. Some websites reported that the attack was on the foreign investor, which is inaccurate, as the attack was on the factory manager, who is a Jordanian citizen. News that the attack was on the Indian investor was inaccurate.
Some websites published a story under the headline "What Foreign Investor Said After Attack in Madaba." However, the story referred to two separate issues. The first was the visit of the minister of labor to the hospital to check on the health of the manager who was assaulted, and the other was the call made by the minister to the investor.
Assault on Chinese
The other case that received extensive coverage in the local media was the attack on a Chinese national in Zarqa. In this case, there were different characterizations of the bearer of the Chinese nationality and the person who assaulted him. One story said that a former employee at Al Hussein Thermal Power Plant assaulted the Chinese deputy manager of the project for expanding the plant, who bears Chinese nationality, due to previous differences between them. Another story cited the uncle of the employee as saying that his nephew was still an employee of the company and that the quarrel he had with the assistant manager was over financial matters.
The media presented more than one story of the assault. Different stories create confusion for readers. When balance is absent in what the media publishes, the reader receives half of the truth. In most of the previous coverage, the news had the story from one side only.
The media reported on other stories, which centered on violations committed against some investors. These included the following headlines: "Attack on Vehicle of Indian Investor in Aqaba; Money Stolen," "Jordanian Businessman Defrauds Arab Investor of 15 Million Dinars," "Arrest of Two Persons Who Extorted Arab Investor, Threatened To Close His Factory," and "Numerous Attacks on Investors; Investment Commission Clarifies."
While examining reports published in the media, we see a description that is almost agreed on by all parties; namely, that these are individual cases. Prime Minister Hani Mulki said that "although the assault on an investor is an individual case, it is an attack on the state of law and civil peace. It is completely unacceptable. It is alien to our country, society, and values. It harms Jordan and its values and reputation."
Public Security Director Major General Fadel Hmoud also said that "attacks on investors are individual and do not constitute a phenomenon." Meanwhile, Faridoon Shams al Din, secretary general of the Investment Commission, said that "individual acts in society do not reflect the general situation in the state. However, they certainly affect attracting investment because they do not give a civilized image of society. They could have a negative effect by closing down or reducing some investments in Jordan."
Mohammed Arsalan, member of the National Association for Investor Protection, disagreed and accused some deputies and officials, whom he did not name, of extorting investors in the Kingdom. Speaking on "Nabd al-Balad" talk show, he called for protecting investors and providing them with all the necessary facilities.
Mohammed Momani, minister of state for media affairs and official spokesman for the government, disclosed that the government was seeking to double penalties for those who commit assaults and shake down investors. He said that the State Security Court Law would be amended to deter people who assault investors.
The minister's statements received extensive coverage by the media, while interest in other viewpoints was limited. Here, we note some statements that oppose the government's viewpoint: "Armouti Gives Legal Opinion of Referring Persons Assaulting Investors to State Security Court." The report said: "Deputy Saleh Armouti said that referring persons who commit crimes of assault and shaking down investors to the State Security Court is legally impermissible. He added: Those people should be tried in accordance with the Penal Code and in front of the competent regular courts."
Armouti criticized the prime minister for expanding referral to the State Security Court and withdrawing powers from the regular judiciary, which has the competence to examine such cases, and giving it to special courts.
Dr. Mohammed Hammouri, a former minister and jurist, wondered about the reasons that will be advanced by the government to the legislative authority to agree to refer persons who assault investors to the State Security Court. He also wondered about the number of cases that the Kingdom has witnessed to warrant amending the law.
Jamal Ishtaiwi, head of the training committee at the Jordan Press Association, told the AKEED Monitor that "attacking investors has never been a phenomenon. However, it has been focused on recently as if it were a phenomenon." He pointed out that "there is a large space between the existence of cases and the existence of a phenomenon. There are cases of attacks on investors, but there is no phenomenon."
He said that media interest was initially due to several reasons, most important of which is that it came in light of the talk of the government about economic reform and investment and because of the attack incidents. Therefore, journalists did not create the event. The focus on it was a reaction to the government decisions in the economic field and raising taxes.
On the government's intention to amend the State Security Court Law to deter attacks on investors and give it media momentum, he said: "Everybody is trying to utilize the media in its favor, but some parties can utilize the media more than others. For example, the opposition here cannot direct the media. As for the government, it is easy for it to direct the media as it wishes, especially official media."
On the existence of a one-sided story, Ishtaiwi says: "In professional media, there is a need for hearing the other story. In most local media, there is no other story. Objective professional media should maintain balance in media material by publishing the story of all parties and all viewpoints."