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Women's Taif TV blocked in Gaza two hours before launch

The Palestinian Ministry of Information in the Gaza Strip blocked the launch of Taif TV two hours before it was due to go on air, in what raised concerns about freedom of the press in Gaza.

GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — The Palestinian Ministry of Information in the Gaza Strip blocked Feb. 18 the launch of Taif TV, which would serve as a platform dedicated to women’s affairs in Gaza. While the media office of the ministry said in a Feb. 18 statement on its official website that the channel had not obtained the necessary licenses, the channel's director, Mona Okal, told the BBC that the crisis was “fabricated” and “aimed at entangling the channel in a political impasse.”

The ministry’s media office continued in its statement that Taif TV was repeatedly contacted to submit the necessary documents and settle the legal status of the channel, and had been notified that a radio station has the same name.

In its statement, the ministry stressed its respect for freedom of opinion and expression, and said, “We regret the TV channel’s failure to comply with the legal principles currently in force.”

The Taif TV administration said in a statement Feb. 18 on its official Facebook page, “We regret the allegations made by the media office of the Ministry of Information in Gaza and confirm that our legal status is sound and does not contradict the provisions of the publications law. We have even obtained the necessary license from the Ministry of Interior in Gaza to hold the inauguration ceremony.”

The statement said the channel is one of the programs of the Haifa Foundation for Media and Communication in partnership with Color Bars Company for Media Production, both of which are licensed by the media office of the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Economy and are entitled to function, to have a website and to start pages on social media platforms.

Taif TV says on its Facebook page that it is the first channel to “shed light on Palestinian women as an integral part of the social fabric.”

Okal told Al-Monitor, “We were surprised by the decision of the media office two hours before the inauguration event. Throughout our work, the media office never tried to stop us from working, and it let us work until right before the inauguration.” 

Okal said she believes the “crisis is fabricated.” She said, “The media office told us the name Taif was used by another media organization, but we found out it is a radio station that has a completely different message [targeting Palestinian prisoners in Israeli jails].”

Salameh Maarouf, director of the ministry's media office in Gaza, told Al-Monitor, “No media outlet is allowed to operate without a license from the relevant department, which is the General Directorate of Publications in this case.” He also called on the channel to come forth with its licenses “if it is true that it has them.”

Maarouf said the media office repeatedly contacted the channel and informed it of the need to obtain a license. “The last date of contact was Feb. 18, when the channel was notified of the need to visit the ministry to rectify its status. We learned about its work through Facebook sponsored ads,” he said.

Although the channel was blocked and its inauguration event was banned, it is currently operational on social media platforms.

Asked about the use of the name Taif, Maarouf said, “The name is already registered and approved for the [radio] station at the Ministry of Information’s media office and the Ministry of Economy, which means that the channel committed an intellectual [property] violation.”

The decision to block Taif TV raised concerns among journalists about freedom of the press and women’s rights in light of the political upheaval caused by the state of Palestinian division since 2007 and the Hamas takeover of the Gaza Strip since then.

Fatima Ashour, a lawyer and human rights activist, told Al-Monitor that preventing the launch of the TV channel raises concerns about freedom of the press and respect for women’s rights in Gaza, and said the step “hits two birds with one stone.”

She said the rationale behind the decision is probably the content broadcast by the channel. “But it was more appropriate for the media office to say that the channel had not obtained the required licenses than to say that it opposed the content broadcast by the channel,” she said.

Maarouf, however, said the channel was not blocked out of objection to its content, as the media office “has no censorship intention, and it is only trying to avoid legal chaos and regulate the media situation.”

Okal said the content of the channel does not offend the traditions and customs of Palestinian society, and emphasized that “our idea will remain, and we will keep working on it.”

Alaa al-Helou, a journalist at Al-Arabi Al-Jadeed, told Al-Monitor, “It is illogical and unreasonable to overlook all of the oppression and suffering that Gazans are going through and choose to focus on a fledgling channel under illogical pretexts instead of supporting it and encouraging its idea. It is as if there is a kind of insistence on fabricating crises and entrenching the principle of fighting every new and distinctive idea.”

Although rights organizations and institutions concerned with the freedom of the press in the Gaza Strip have not observed any similar measures on the part of the Ministry of Information, much still needs to be done to defend the freedom of the press and women’s right in light of the Palestinian division.

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