Dubai, Asharq Al-Awsat- Six years after the launch of Dubai Media City, there are clear signs of expansion prospects for this project and it seems that the aim is to cross borders, particularly towards India and Malta. In an interview with Asharq Alawsat, Dubai Media City’s (DMC) Executive Director of Media, TECOM Investments, Dr Amina Al Rostamani, confirmed that the intention to repeat the free media city project outside the borders of the United Arab Emirates (UAE) is present and that it will be achieved by transferring the expertise to different regions worldwide via cooperative agreements through which it will establish and run models of communities that operate on a similar system as DMC, based on knowledge and experience. She added that DMC faces huge pressure from companies that wish to enter, which is the one of the reasons that encouraged DMC’s plans to expand its field of operations.
The interview follows:
Q: Six years after the launch of businesses in DMC, what are the important transformations achieved in the terms of offering comprehensive services to the different media sectors?
A: I can say that we have been successful in achieving the goals set for us thus far; the city has solidified its position as a media center that has its own significance and weight in the field of Arab media, as a part of TECOM Investments, which is the investment arm for the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone. Moreover, the DMC was able to attain a distinguished status as one of the successful models for media conglomerates on an international scale. The DMC has become a strong center of attraction for media companies seeking to consolidate their presence in this region of the world, also extending their activities on an international level by relying on the strong infrastructure that characterizes Dubai.
Q: What is the figure relating to companies operative in DMC?
A: The city currently includes over 1,200 specialized regional and international companies, covering most all media sectors, most important of which is television broadcasting and publishing, since the growth of these two sectors was one of the main incentives behind launching two new projects, which will help in creating a new arena in which the needs ensuing out of this expansion will be met, in addition to offering opportunities to new companies wishing to join our media community.
Q: What is the concept behind establishing these new projects?
A: The founding of these projects came as a consequence of increasing demand after the DMC reached saturation point. Dubai Studio City will be the new source to meet the requirements of the cinema and television production sectors, while the International Media Production Zone (IMPZ) will work on creating an accommodating environment and the necessary infrastructure needed for printing, publishing and packaging. The operation of some of the elements of these two giant projects is expected to begin during the second half of this year.
Q: Don’t you think that some might prefer to be part of the DMC itself because of their institutions’ needs, and how can you overcome a situation like this with the exhaustion of all available space in the city?
A: TECOM Investments, the umbrella under which Dubai Media City and its related projects operate, is currently building 27 new towers in the vicinity of the free zone area, in cooperation with the private sector investors who will be in charge of establishing the infrastructure, while TECOM Investments will run them using the same system. I believe that these towers will largely contribute to accommodating the growing demand to join the free zone with all its different institutions during the coming period.
Q: Are there any foreign agreements to take the DMC model to other areas of the world?
A: TECOM Investments seeks to transfer its expertise to different parts of the world using cooperative agreements through which it will establish and run models of communities, using a system similar to DMC’s, via its global arm TECOM International. There are numerous projects that are currently being considered in India and Malta, among other countries.
Q: There are many initiatives for Arab media zones; do you see them as competition for you?
A: Honest competition supplies the economic and media life with fresh blood and every day reflects positively from the standpoint of raising the quality of services offered. We do not consider other Arab initiatives in the media free zone field to be rivals, since we regard it as a new opportunity to integrate roles with the aim of reaching a more elevated goal – which is to assist in presenting media content of a better quality that would befit the significance and reputation of our Arab world. We enjoy strong cooperative relations with other free zones in the region; in fact, we seek to reinforce dialogue, consul and the exchange of various ideas pertaining to numerous issues. We do not, in any way, hold back our expertise from those wanting to put it to use, as we seek to learn from all our predecessors in this field on a global scale.
Q: The television broadcasting sector has achieved significant growth in the city, what’s your take on that?
A: The number of companies operating television broadcasting services has reached more than 60 companies that broadcast over 135 television channels that range between news, entertainment, family, and general; I regard this growth as a healthy thing in and of itself because the increase in media content presents audiences with the opportunity to compare and choose. Undoubtedly, in the end, competition serves viewers who, in turn, force bad productions out, while good content seeks to elevate public taste and spread media content that is both valuable and strong. Yet, this does not mean we open the door to all those seeking to establish a TV channel; there are rules and principles that DMC adheres to. The same applies to the new media projects, in terms of reviewing the work plans of applicant companies, whether in the television sector or otherwise, with the aim of protecting the interests of investors and providing advice and counsel regarding the opportunities of the various projects.
Q: Dubai was able to acquire a good reputation in publishing; how has DMC contributed to this sector?
A: The services provided through the city have assisted in supporting the sector, which now holds more than 120 publishing houses that issue a variation of over 350 prints, and which the publishing houses export a large portion of to the regional markets. Observers to the general scene may perhaps presume that the local market is incapable of digesting such a massive number of prints – but in reality, a number of publishing houses use Dubai as a center to launch their products in a region that spans the distance from the Indian subcontinent in the East, to West Africa, which is a huge market that has a population of about 2 billion, in addition to some parts of Europe.
Q: What are your limits of censorship and freedom?
A: We do not have a censorship apparatus, but we advocate the principle of responsible freedom, which is the slogan raised by the city since its establishment, and there is an unwritten agreement between the city and its partners to observe the basic rules and guidelines that all media personnel must follow, not only in Dubai but also internationally. Respecting religions, for instance, is a given, as are various other things. I do not think that responsible media indulges itself in breaching these observed rules.
We always look forward to the Arab media being a responsible one with the unified message that all strive to achieve, which is to offer good, constructive and valuable media content. We have developed a collection of general guidelines for media institutions operating in the free zone, which is drafted into a document that we have made available to all our partners. In the event of disputes, we resort to a neutral judging panel, which the free zone has created, which includes a group of legal professionals and independent lawyers from Dubai and Britain. It is a committee that examines problems that may arise from time to time, yet we have rarely resorted to it, and when we have, the results of the arbitration were satisfactory for both parties in all cases.
Q: In all honesty, do you allow the DMC’s television channels to criticize the UAE or its government?
A: As I have already mentioned, we expect from our partners media integrity, objectivity, and complete impartiality, which are all essential basis for media work. The DMC is devoted to selecting its partners from those who comprise the foremost Arab and international media institutions, which embody the integrity guidelines I have mentioned, and implement them as their main operational plan. We do not censor anyone’s opinion in the age of satellite broadcast; if a person wants to direct criticism at someone, they may do so from anywhere in the world, however it must be constructive and objective, in addition to being supported by facts, rather than being destructive negative criticism with the aim of sensationalism.
Q: The Iraqi channel ‘Al Fayhaa’ claimed that Dubai Media City suspended it for political reasons, do politics interfere with the DMC’s work?
A: The DMC operates within a frame that is comprised of rules and contractual laws included in the regulations of the Dubai Technology and Media Free Zone Authority. I would like to point out that the matter you mention has no connection whatsoever to politics, but rather has to do with a strictly contractual procedural background. As I have already mentioned, the city does not have a censorship apparatus and does not interfere in the work of its partners. We respect the privacy of companies and make no comments regarding their affairs from that perspective.