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By In’am El-Obeidi
Although print media in Palestine has been in existence for a long time, Palestinian broadcast media, which was introduced after the establishment of the Palestinian National Authority (PNA), has attracted widespread attention among Palestinians. In fact, whereas the number of local stations is rapidly increasing, the number of print dailies (three) remains the same. According to official figures from the Palestinian Ministry of Information, there are approximately 30 local TV stations in the West Bank and 33 local radio stations. In Gaza, however, there are 13 radio stations and not a single local TV station. It is important to note that some observers argue that the number of functioning and licensed stations is variable.
People remember with nostalgia the time when the main television station was Jordanian. That was before the electronic revolution and before the existence of the Arab satellite channels. At that time, of course, there were also the Israeli television stations which broadcast in Hebrew except for one or two hours a day when the broadcast would be in Arabic. In those days, people who lived on high hilltops were lucky because, with a good antenna, they were sometimes able to receive the Syrian television signal.
Since the Oslo Agreement and the establishment of the PNA, Palestinians have begun to enjoy, for the first time, having their own broadcast media outlets, funded and managed exclusively by Palestinians.
The first effort in the preparations for launching the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) in 1994, the only official Palestinian television network, was a two-week training workshop in production for some outstanding Palestinian journalists. The outcome of that workshop was the first Palestinian TV News Bulletin, which used a closed circuit in the national theatre in Jerusalem in July 1993.
During the first Intifada in 1987 there were a few modest initiatives for establishing local TV stations in the north using the technique of cable broadcasting services, in cooperation with some stations inside the 1948 occupied lands. Also at that time, the Palestinians and their cause were put on the agenda of the international media. A number of young men and women were hired to assist foreign correspondents as translators, field guides, and logistics workers to help arrange interviews with freedom fighters and political activists. Eventually, though some of these Palestinians were promoted to act as TV producer assistants, the Palestinian perspective was not adequately reflected in the media. This reality served to alert Palestinians to the importance of media training and education, especially in the area of television and radio.
At a global level, the media role in encouraging democracy and development in various parts of the developing world gained the support of many scholars and experts. This was also true for the Palestinian case. Significant financial aid and expertise were channelled to the Palestinian media services sector after the Oslo Agreement. Media training centres and journalism schools became popular future options for high school students. Among the best of the few local radio stations in Ramallah is Radio Ajyal, which frequently hires Birzeit University media graduates as journalists, presenters, and managers.
During crises such as invasions by Occupation soldiers into PNA territory or during closures or any sudden emergency situations that affect Palestinian security and safety, people need to have access to up-to-date news about any of the latest developments. For this reason a good radio station that provides nonstop news could score high in the ratings.
The ongoing rapid changes in communication technology have made the cost of founding a local private television or radio station relatively reasonable and affordable. Moreover, the operation of these stations has also become less demanding and sophisticated, especially for radio stations, where some programmes can even be managed by only one person. The fact that there are no laws to regulate music copyrights makes it easy to fill up long periods of air time for free. For this reason it is imperative that laws to protect copyrights and to regulate broadcasting be formulated and enforced.
Most of the radio stations in the West Bank and Gaza have a flexible format and are not specialised. For example, they broadcast a mix of news bulletins, current affairs, light youth programmes, and lots of modern Arabic pop music. Only a few stations are specialised, e.g., Radio Qur’an Karim, which broadcasts readings of the holy book, and Radio Tarab for classical Arabic music.
Advertising covers the operating costs of most stations in the West Bank. Some are even able to make a profit. In Gaza, however, most stations are sponsored and funded by local and international non-governmental organisations. There are, however, four radio stations in Gaza that belong to political parties: Al-Quds Radio (Al-Jihad), Al-Aqsa Radio (Hamas), Al Sha’ab Radio (Palestinian Popular Front), and Al-Boraq (Popular Resistance Committees).
A number of radio stations have claimed success through community service programmes that provide a platform for listeners to submit complaints on the air - about water shortages, road problems, health care issues, etc. These programmes function as a liaison between people and responsible decision makers, and they provide a means for public involvement. The appeal of these programmes for the stations themselves is the fact that very little money, preparation, or competence is required.
In spite of the popularity of many radio stations, a large sector of the public - the elderly - has yet to be targeted. Their cultural and educational sophistication as well as their taste in music remain outside the focus of these stations. Palestinian broadcast media organisations would do well to include this significant sector of the population in their programme planning.
Palestinians can be proud of all in their history that has set the stage for the success of their modern broadcast media. There remains much potential, however, that needs to be encouraged and skills that need to be polished in order to assume the breadth of responsibility required to develop and enhance the arena of Palestinian broadcast media.
In’am El-Obeidi: she works as a lecturer at the Media Department at Birzeit University. she is a media consultant and trainer. She co founded the Media Department and Media training center the at BZU in 1996. She was a trainer in the workshop for the first Palestinian television news bulletin 1993. She worked as an editor in chief and as a news programs director in the PBC during 1995.