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Funding cuts to Palestinians take toll on independent media

Independent Palestinian media outlets, especially TV channels, are folding due to financial difficulties stemming from reduced or canceled funding typically received by Palestinian nongovernmental organizations.

RAMALLAH, West Bank — The shuttering of Alfalstiniah TV on April 1 has highlighted the financial crisis plaguing Palestinian media outlets, in particular satellite TV channels. The immediate cause of Alfastiniah's demise was its inability to pay the monthly fees it owed to obtain satellite broadcasting services. Other outlets are finding themselves in similar situations due to reduced foreign aid to nongovernmental organizations and a lack of government support.

Palsat, a private company established by presidential decree in April 2015, collects monthly fees from Palestinian channels in return for satellite broadcasting services. The channels pay Palsat between $24,000 and $28,000 per month, depending on the level of the broadcast quality.

On the day Alfalstiniah TV ceased operations, it aired an interview with its director general, Maher Shalabi, who said that the channel had received notification from Palsat on March 20 that it would cease broadcasting due to the debt it had accumulated. Shalabi accused the government, as represented by the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC), as being behind the crisis facing the channel.

Alfalstiniah TV launched in 2012 as a private satellite channel owned by a holding company. The Siraj Fund Management Company withdrew from the holding company in 2013, after which the PBC bought Siraj's 49% of the shares, valued at $2.6 million. The PBC pledged to invest $900,000 for Alfalstiniah's development. According to Shalabi, the investment never materialized, and the channel’s total debt rose to $3.2 million, including interest.

Meanwhile, Ma’an TV is also dealing with financial difficulties. Nasser al-Laham, Ma’an editor in chief, revealed March 30 on the station that the network had received formal notification the day before from Palsat that its broadcasts would cease April 1 due to accumulated debt.

Raed Othman, director general of the Ma’an network, told Al-Monitor that independent Palestinian media outlets have been negatively affected by the decline and sometimes halt in funding, as in the case of financial assistance from the United States, to support civil projects and institutions in Palestine. Some media outlets, he explained, receive part of their funding from civic institutions, unions and women's and youth organizations for broadcasting programs produced by these groups.

Othman said that such media outlets cannot survive for very long because their sources of income are so limited. He added that Ma'an has never received a dime from the PA, although he had thought the PA would support local media outlets to sustain their role in conveying the Palestinian narrative to the world and to expose the realities of Israel's policies toward the Palestinians.

Ma’an was founded as a non-profit in 2002 by a group of Palestinian journalists. As it was getting off the ground, it had received financial support from the Danish and Dutch Representations in Ramallah.

Othman said Ma’an's administration was surprised by Palsat’s notification because the channel had settled $110,000 of the $160,000 it owed. Palsat said in a March 31 statement that an agreement had been signed November 1, 2016, to allow Ma’an TV to begin broadcasting, but since then until March 13 of this year, Ma'an had only settled six months’ worth of payments.

Omar Nazzal, a member of the General Secretariat of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate, told Al-Monitor that Ma'an and Palsat had asked the syndicate to help them reach a compromise, determine the exact value of the debt and develop a mechanism for settling what is owed through installments.

“We are on it,” Nazzal said. “Ma’an hasn’t stopped and won’t stop broadcasting unless there is a joint decision taken by the syndicate and the two involved parties.” 

Some Palestinian media outlets have faced insurmountable obstacles. In February, employees of Jerusalem-based Al-Quds TV said that they had received a notice from their management stating that the channel would be closing its offices due to a financial and debt crisis preventing it from paying employee salaries.

The Hamas-affiliated Al-Aqsa TV announced that for financial reasons its last broadcast would be Dec. 20. It, however, was saved when Hamas politburo bureau chief Ismail Haniyeh stepped in to keep it running. A year earlier, Al-Kitab, an educational TV channel run by the Islamic University of Gaza, had closed its doors because of financial difficulties.

In light of these developments in broadcasting, Nazzal remarked, “The crisis plaguing media outlets is worrying as it harms diversity in the Palestinian media, which is important when it comes to ensuring freedom of opinion and expression.”

Nazzal added, “The PA lacks programs aimed at supporting independent media outlets, and it mainly focuses on supporting government media outlets. The PA imposes high licensing fees on private media outlets. These fees depend on the nature of the outlet and on whether it is a TV channel, a newspaper or a radio station.”

Besides the outlets themselves, another victim of the political and financial challenges that Palestinian media outlets are grappling with are the journalists working for these institutions. Among journalism majors, 49.2% are unemployed, according to data released by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics in November 2018 covering through the third-quarter of the year.


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