The Dubai Digital Broadcasting
By TBS Senior Editor S.
seems like it all has happened in little more than a year: the launch of Dubai
TV's cutting-edge digital satellite channel, the Dubai Business Channel; the opening
of the extraordinary Dubai Press Club with its vast expanse of Internet-connected
computer stations and large overhead TV screens tuned in to every conceivable
news channel (earphones at every chair to guarantee a working environment) and
its breathtaking twin-towers view of Dubai Creek; the launch of E-Vision, the
first digital cable television network in the Arab world; and the press launch
of Dubai Internet City (DIC), followed less than a year later by its opening.
This 700 million dollar
investment by Dubai in state-of-the-art facilities and world-class infrastructure,
housed in an Arabian palm tree lined equivalent of a vast Silicon Valley style
campus, will--in the words of that visionary force behind almost all of these
developments, General Sheikh Mohammed Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, crown prince of Dubai
and UAE defense minister--confirm Dubai as the new economic hub of the region.
And only a few hundred meters away, separated by the tranquil architectural classicism
of the new American University in Dubai (or, if one prefers the view and ambiance
from the highway, by Dubai's Hard Rock Cafe) is the site, with building already
underway even before any press announcement, of Dubai Media City.
On November 4, 2000 Sheikh
Mohammed officially launched Dubai Media City, to quote Gulf News (and his
own website), "with a promise of freedom of expression and no censorship."
Like DIC, DMC will accept 100-percent foreign ownership and offer a 50-year corporate
and personal tax exemption to "individual media people" as well as corporations.
The vision here is of a media community that will bring broadcasters, TV production
companies, publishers, ad agencies and PR companies as well as individual journalists
together in one area (to be spread over nearly 500 landscaped acres) creating
what has been described as a "media ecosystem."
Dubai's investment in
the Media City is approximately 800 million dollars, slightly higher than its
investment in DIC. Again the promise is cutting-edge technology, including production
and transmission facilities. Again the goal, according to Sheikh Mohammad, is
"to attract international and regional media businesses, providing a center for
communications and serving as a media hub for the region. Media business people
who shift their operations to the city can take advantage of the strategic position
of Dubai at the crossroads of the Middle East, Africa and south Asia to target
an audience of nearly two billion people."
Typical of Dubai's ongoing
success story, this latest development does not take place in an infrastructural
vacuum or even in what can be barely characterized anymore as a stretch of desert.
Sheikh Mohammed's press conference launch of DMC took place at the Jumeirah Beach
Hotel, the first of three incredibly luxurious hotels that run along the beachfront
towards DIC, Media City and the American University. The university, presumably,
will play a leading role in what the Sheikh described as a "greenhouse program"
organized in association with leading UAE-based educational institutions to train
a new generation of UAE nationals who will join the many expatriate specialists
expected to settle down in and around Media City.
From an investment perspective
Media City is the third point completing a triangle of concentration linking DIC
and DMC with the recently announced Dubai Ideas Oasis, which appears to be a consortium
of venture capital investors designed to stimulate the launch of e-businesses.
Sheikh Mohammed also told
the press that 82 percent of the space in DMC had already been booked by local,
regional and multinational companies, among them TV producers, record companies,
post-production studios and freelance service providers. It is expected that Media
City will also take the position of regional hub for printing, publishing and
packaging, but it is the increasing technological convergence of Internet interactivity
and satellite broadcasting that makes Dubai's Media City/Internet City complex
so fascinating and the prospects for success so high. DIC has already reportedly
leased out 95 percent of its space, with IBM already breaking ground in DIC for
a regional headquarters that will serve the Middle East, Egypt and Pakistan, and
with Microsoft, Oracle, Compaq, MasterCard, Sun Microsystems, and Hewlett-Packard
among the more that 190 companies already licensed to operate in DIC.
But it is obviously the
international satellite broadcasters that Sheikh Mohammad has most in mind--and
first of all the Arab regional satellite broadcasters. "Growth is vital for business.
As I look across the region at today's existing media capitals, we see trade legislation
and practices that inhibit the growth of business. Media owners should welcome
a new and free business environment in which to grow and expand free of the constraints
they might encounter in other locations."
Over and over again at
his press conference Sheikh Mohammad returned to the idea that freedom of expression
is a "fundamental point…an integral part of the subject of media. This awareness
and practice of freedom is the foundation of the creation of Dubai Media City.
I am aware of the vital importance this holds to the media world. I guarantee
freedom of expression to all of you and the right to be completely objective in
your views and reporting. Let us do so responsibly, objectively and with accountability
and in the spirit of the social and cultural context in which we live."
It would appear that within
limits--the same conventional limits in the West guaranteed by libel laws, plus
a sensibility that draws more conservative lines of restraint in sexual content
by Arab broadcasters transmitting from Europe than is to be found among European
broadcasters--Sheikh Mohammad was pledging that Dubai Media City would provide
the same attraction of an environment free of political censorship for the private
sector Arab satellite broadcasters that Rome, Avezzano, London and Marbella (Al-Andalus
Channel) now provide. Interspace, a European satellite industry bulletin, reported
on September 20 that Dubai "has already examined the British ITC broadcast media
regulations and sees itself adopting a similar broadcasting structure" for Dubai
It was as if Sheikh Mohammad
was openly addressing the owners of MBC, ART, Orbit, ANN and the other European-based
satellite channels (and even the satellite-transmitted newspapers Al-Hayat and
Sharq al-Awsat) when he declared: "This freedom will allow and encourage the Arab
media to return home to broadcast and publish once again from Arab land and contribute
to this new regional media industry." According to Dubai sources, MBC has already
signed up in principle, and London sources say MBC has already put its Battersea
transmission, production, and management center up for sale.
Next page: "All
the big players are here."