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Media Landscapes

Palestine

Written by Fadi Abu Sada

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Prior to the 1993 Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian National Authority, Israel denied any Palestinian living outside Jerusalem the right to publish a newspaper or start a radio or television station.

That said, one Arabic newspaper has been published in East Jerusalem since 1951: the al-Quds newspaper.

Since the Oslo Accords, new newspapers have been established. Palestinian national and independent radio and television stations have also launched.

The Israel-Palestine conflict has had great impact on the media. Harassment of journalists and restrictions of free movement make for extremely difficult working conditions. The second intifada, which started in 2000, created financial trouble for many media organisations. The conflict between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas in Gaza lead to a further deterioration of the working environment for journalists.

But the importance of building up a viable media landscape in “the information age” has spurred various media organisations to take a position at the forefront of the movement toward a functioning Palestinian state.  The rise of independent, electronic media, accompanied by the availability of sufficient technology has also been of great benefit.  While infrastructure may be sub-par by Western standards, development is continual. The people of Palestine in the Palestinian Territories, the state of Israel and the diaspora have joined the global media landscape irrevocably tied to both the Arab and the Western world. All stakeholders are increasingly on centre stage. 

Three main newspapers circulate in the Palestinian Territories. al-Quds is privately owned but close to the Palestinian Authority; it has the largest circulation. The editor of al-Ayyam was previously part of the Fatah party. The third paper is al-Hayat al-Jadidah, a national daily affiliated with the Palestinian Authority. In the Gaza Strip there are two additional daily newspapers, both Hamas papers. One is called al-Resala, and the other Felesteen. The political wing of Hamas has its own daily newspaper, Palestine.

The official radio station in the Palestinian Territories is The Voice of Palestine, which is part of the PBC. Independent radio stations include Radio Amwaj, Ajyaal, Raya and Sama all based in Ramallah. Many private radio stations are registered in smaller towns. In all, there are 70 radio stations in the Palestinian Territories.

There are 31 private television stations registered at the Palestinian Ministry of Information. These air in the West Bank only. Most of these channels are limited to broadcasting to small areas and cities. However, Palestinians are not bound only to national television channels.

Channels from abroad, such as as al-Jazeera and al-Arabiya are quite popular. Multifaceted stations such as Jordanian TV offer myriad choices and have a wide audience. The Islamist party Hamas has its own television station, al-Aqsa. It is based in Gaza. Moustafa Barghouti, the former Minister of Information, also has his own channel, al-Watan TV.

Recently two additional Palestinian satellite channels have appeared. The first, called al-Falastenieh, is owned by the political party Fatah. The latter has not yet been named but will be run by Mohamad Dahlan, a party leader of Fatah.

Cinema currently remains one of the weakest areas of cultural and media infrastructure for the Palestinian people. Palestinian cinema can lay claim to its first production in 1935. But the events of 1948 and the subsequent destruction of a stable Palestinian society claimed this art as a casualty.

Palestinian refugees in exile made many films and documentaries, and documentaries produced by Fatah-aligned political parties also were produced from the 1960s onward. Yet it can be said that a domestic, independent Palestinian cinema did not exist until the mid 1990s.  Even cinemas that play exclusively non-Palestinian works have been in extremely limited quantities and have quite sporadic periods of operation.

In 1996 the Palestinian film industry was reborn when the drama/documentary Chronicle of A Disappearance received acclaim at international film festivals. In each subsequent year, a small but growing number of feature-length films, documentaries and “shorts” have been made. The year  2008 saw three internationally-recognised films (Salt of This Sea, Taste the Revolution, Till When?). The first animated film (Fatenah) was released in 2009.

At present the Palestinian film industry is characterised by an international following of Westerners interested in independent film and the political situation in the Middle East.  A disproportionate number of actors, directors and producers who list their nationality as Palestinian are Israeli citizens of Palestinian descent. They produce their work in Israel or abroad as opposed to the Palestinian Territories.

That said, the Palestinian film industry is clearly showing signs as a stable and growing influence in Palestinian life.

Despite adverse economic and security conditions, fixed and mobile markets in the Palestinian Territories have been growing at a steady pace in recent years. The fixed sector grew by an average rate of 10.2 percent between 2000 and 2004, reaching 357,310 fixed subscribers by the end of 2004 with a penetration rate of 9.8 percent. In 2006, there were around 830,000 mobile-phone accounts, according to the Palestinian communication company Paltel (now officially under the Zain group).

In August, 2008, Wataniya Palestine Telecom, or WPT, along with shareholders Wataniya Telecom and the Palestine Investment Fund, began signing agreements with a number of telecommunications and information technologies providers to start the construction of a GSM network in Palestine.

The signing of the agreements came after WPT received the frequency license from the Palestinian Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology. The allocation of the radio frequencies all

Israel regulates Internet access in the Palestinian Territories. But online media in Palestine is expanding. In 2006, it was estimated that nearly 243,000 Palestinians, about 13 percent of the population, had access to the Internet. Although Internet cafes are the main means to online access, the Internet is becoming increasingly available for home and personal use.

There are several electronic media outlets, including The Palestine News Network, or PNN, which offers news in Arabic, English, Hebrew and French. The Gaza-based Donia Alwatan is widely browsed for its variety of reports in addition to news in Arabic. Paltoday, and Samanews are also popular sites among Palestinian Internet users.

The Palestinian blogosphere is developing. A new website for blogs was established in 2007 by the Arabic Media Internet Network, an NGO in Ramallah. It hosts blogs on a variety of subjects.

There are also many individual blogs written from around the world about the Palestinian Territories. Most deal with the Israel-Palestine conflict:

The global switchover to digital broadcast signals includes the Palestinian Authority, which officially announced it will switch over by 2013.  It is generally recognised that this deadline will be pushed back, however, as implementation of digital media in the Palestinian Territories is hampered by the political and economic situation.

The Palestine News Agency WAFA is the official government news agency. It delivers news in Arabic, Hebrew, English and French.

There are several independent news agencies, though, such as the Ramattan News Agency, which primarily serves television stations, and the Ma’an News Agency.

The Palestine News Network (PNN) was the first independent local news agency to operate with a license from the Palestinian Authority’s Ministry of Information. The Dutch and Danish ministries of foreign affairs sponsors ministry is sponsored by.

Shehab is another Hamas-supported news agency.

According to media sources in Gaza, is competing with Ramattan in an effort to replace it. Also, the Jerusalem Media & Communication Center provides translated local news summaries to a list of subscribers.

The Palestinian Journalists Syndicate in Ramallah represents professional Palestinian journalists and their interests.  Other relevant organisations include: the Palestinian Media and Development Institute, and the Palestinian Photojournalist Committee. There are many members of these unions and it is required for journalists to register with these bodies.

The presence of NGOs enables a significant portion of news media in Palestine. These groups circulate their own media services via the Internet, documentaries, newsletters and more.  This includes the presence of missionaries and established Christian and Muslim faith communities that have an indigenous presence with Palestinian leadership and support.  

Furthermore, the proliferation of the Internet and its independent broadcasting capabilities has led to many groups on platform sites like YouTube, with its informational videos, Facebook and Twitter.

These independent media sources are run by internationals concerned about the situation of the Palestinian people and the quality of the media can often be brought into question. Yet it must be acknowledged that these new forms of media have a significant presence.

The Ministry of Information in Ramallah, currently headed by Salam Fayyad, regulates and oversees media of Palestine.  The Prime Minister also regularly meets with independent media representatives.

Media services operating in the Gaza Strip or West Bank outside the Palestinian Authority are allowed to function and produce news without an inordinate amount of censorship by official Palestinian authorities.  Independent media criticism of the Palestinian Authority is generally accepted, but can be aggressively refuted by the Palestinian Authority of Fatah, the ruling party in the West Bank. News media in the Gaza Strip are more strongly controlled by the ruling Hamas Party.

The primary concern in regard to the openness of media is the Israeli government’s ipso facto control of Palestine. The international press is allowed to enter into Israeli and the Palestinian Territories at the will of the Israeli government, which famously refused to allow both Palestinian and international journalists into the Gaza Strip during Operation Cast Lead. Furthermore, the Israeli government frequently targets Palestinian media agencies and journalists if these members of the press are deemed to be a security threat to Israel.

The hierarchy of responsible direct authority for the Palestinian media landscape is the Ministry of Information, then the ministry of Telecommunication as well as the Interior Ministry:

  • The Information Ministry is responsible for giving licences to any media outlet: radio, TV, newspaper, online news agency.
  • The Ministry of Telecommunication is usually responsible for the frequency needed for radios, TVs, and satellite. It collects yearly fees for frequency use.
  • The Interior Ministry is concerned with clearances for the people who register a media outlet or organisation.

Regulations of Broadcasting

Independent Regulation
It is universally accepted that broadcasting, unlike the print sector, must be regulated — if only to ensure order in the airwaves. An overriding international principle is that broadcast regulators should be independent of both political and commercial interests. It is not appropriate for these interests to exert influence over the media.
Promoting independence is a complex matter and there are several ‘models’ for achieving this. Central to the idea of independence is the involvement of a range of actors in the process of appointments to the governing bodies of regulatory bodies, so as to avoid domination by any particular interest or political party. This may be achieved by involving multi-party bodies such as parliament and/or by giving civil society organisations, which normally represent a wide range of social interests, a role in appointments. Other means of promoting independence include ensuring that the appointments process is fair and transparent, putting in place clear conflict-of-interest rules. These should aim to prohibit senior members of political parties from being members, prohibit those with vested commercial from sitting as members and provide members with security of tenure.


Licensing
As noted, licensing of broadcasters is necessary if only to avoid chaos in the airwaves. Indeed, in the early history of the United States, no licensing system was in place and this quickly led to chaos. There is also a perhaps more profound reason to license broadcasters: to promote overall public interest in broadcasting, particularly by promoting diversity in the airwaves. International law protects the right to ‘seek and receive’ information and ideas, the rights of the listener. These rights are the basis of the importance of promoting broadcasting diversity. This is not about quantity but rather about quality. It may well be less satisfactory, from the perspective of the listener, to receive 10 FM music stations providing the same fare than only three stations, but which offer a range of information choices. Another goal of licensing is to ensure that the media may be financially viable, a challenge anywhere but perhaps particularly in Palestine, given the weak economic base. Advertising is the primary source of income for the vast majority of broadcasters. But advertising, as well as other sources of revenue such as donor funds, is largely fixed in size. If you license 40 broadcasters, this ‘pie’ must be shared among them, so that the average size is one-fortieth of the whole pie. If you only license 10 broadcasters, each will, on average, get a much larger share, one-tenth of the pie. The implications of media under-funding are serious: it has a tendency to lead to low-quality, low-cost programming (eg. music radio); journalists are underpaid leading to complications such as producing ‘news’ stories for cash; many media outlets seek out a rich ‘patron,’ leading to skews in terms of output based on the interest of the patron rather than the public.

In most cases, media or broadcasting laws set out in some detail the procedure by which license applications should be processed. This should be clear, fair and transparent, and also efficient. The law should state clearly the criteria by which license applications will be assessed. These should include the proposed contribution of the broadcaster to diversity, financial viability, technical capacity and ownership (to avoid undue concentration of media ownership).

Content regulation
Many broadcasting laws establish administrative systems for regulating broadcast programming. As with other regulatory functions, a body that is independent of political or commercial interference should oversee these. It is very important that any content rules be clear so as to give broadcasters advance notice of the limits. To achieve this, it is necessary to develop a detailed code of conduct or programming code that describes the applicable standards for different areas: violence, protection of children, decent language, treatment of religion and so on. This code should be developed in close consultation with interested stakeholders, in particular broadcast professionals, and it should reflect broadcasting reality (for example, in the context of live transmissions). It should be kept in mind that the purpose of this system is to set standards for broadcasters. Many of the issues the code will deal with – such as acceptable levels of violence in programs or what is appropriate for children – are complex matters subject to changing social values. The idea is to clarify appropriate limits rather than enforce clear prohibitions. As a result, sanctions should be carefully tailored. This implies the existence of a range of graduated sanctions, starting with warnings and obligations to carry messages by the regulator and, only in more serious cases of repeated failure to respect the code, possible fines.

Several Palestinian universities offer journalism programmes:

At the Birzeit University journalism students may choose from among these subjects:

  • Major in media-journalism/minor in political science
  • Major in media-journalism/minor in sociology
  • Major in media-radio broadcasting/minor in television

The An-Najah National University also offers an undergraduate programme in journalism.

The al-Quds University hosts the Institute of Modern Media, which was established in 1996 in al-Bireh near Ramallah. The institute’s most vital department is al-Quds Educational Television, which is considered the university’s communication link with Palestinian society.

The Palestine Polytechnic University offers a bachelor’s degree programme in art and creativity skills with the applications and techniques of the multimedia. It aims to upgrade the use of multimedia and graphics design techniques in various sectors, including art production in printing, television and Internet.

In 2003, the Bethlehem Bible College launched a Media Training Project. It offers two-year programmes in journalism focusing on web design, radio and television production. The college boasts a media centre that produces a weekly one-hour television programme that airs in the West Bank.

  • Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation
    PO Box 984, Ramallah Albereih
    Ramallah
    Palestinian Territories
    Tel.: +972 (0)2 295 9894
    Fax: +972 (0)2 295 9893
    Email: pbcinfo@pbc.gov.ps
  • Palestine News Network
    Bethlehem
    Palestinian Territories
    Tel.: +972 (0)2 276 6067
    Fax: +972 (0)2 276 6068
    Email: info@pnn.ps
  • Palestine News Agency
    P.O. Box: 5300
    Gaza City
    Palestinian Territories
    Tel.: + 970 2 824036
    Fax: + 970 2 824046
    Email: edit@wafa.ps
  • Ma’an News Agency
    al-Karkafa Street, al-Majd Building, 4th Floor
    Bethlehem
    Palestinian Territories
    Tel.: +970 276 008 5/6
    Fax: + 970 276 00 88
    Email: info@maannet.org
  • Sub-Office, Gaza City
    Ma’an News Agency
    Wahda Street, Flat Three, Shawa & Hussari Building, tenth floor
    Gaza City
    Palestinian Territories
    Tel.: +970 08 282 50 11
    Fax: +970 08 283 51 78
  • Ramattan News Agency - Head Office
    Wahda Street, Shawa & Hussari Building, 9th Floor
    Gaza City
    Palestinian Territories
    Tel.: +970 828 301 66
    Fax No: +970 828 482 88
    E-Mail: news@ramattan.com

On the whole, the media landscape of Palestine is experiencing positive growth. Positive factors include global public interest in the crisis in Palestine, the increased presence of funded international support, training and volunteers. Also key is the slow but steady improvement of education within Palestine, in particular literacy and widespread usage of the English language.

Fadi Abu Sada
Editor in Chief
Palestine News Network (PNN), Palestine
Tel: +972 (0)599 380 789
Email: fadi@pnn.ps
Website