In the early years of the Palestinian Authority (PA), one of its biggest goals was to establish sovereignty over Palestinian land. This included what is below the ground as well as the skies above. While the fight over land has been the biggest challenge, Palestinians have been successful in capturing the skies by launching tens of local radio and TV stations, which reserved available frequencies and prevented the Israelis from occupying them as well. This week, six new online radio stations were launched by the Bethlehem-based Palestine News Network.
The first annex of the Oslo Accords references the "possibility of licensing" radio and TV stations in the context of Palestinian elections. Initial licenses for Palestine TV and Voice of Palestine radio were in fact agreed upon, but a joint technical committee that was supposed to look into requests for private radio and TV licenses has rarely met and has not agreed on any private licenses.
This led the PA to encourage private organizations and individuals to apply for and get "special temporary permits" from the Ministry of Information. Tens of radio and TV stations hit the airwaves. The farsightedness of Palestinian leaders, among them Yasser Abed Rabbo, to provide for the proliferation of these stations proved to be prescient, especially in 2002, when the Israeli air force bombed and destroyed the studios and towers of the PA’s state-run radio and TV. Private stations complied with emergency requests for use of their frequencies to continue the work of the official Palestinian media until their towers could be repaired.
The proliferation of these stations, however, produced its own chaos. Station owners refused to pay a relatively low licensing fee or abide by the Palestinian government’s demand that at least one-fourth of their on-air content be produced locally. Some international organizations, such as the US-based Internews Network, helped the stations by creating Josor, a network project that allows them to exchange locally produced material.
Media usage in Palestine has fluctuated, depending on the political situation. The two intifadas attracted a lot of regional and international press, which naturally employed local journalists and fixers. These individuals who later found themselves without jobs but with solid, hands-on experience in journalism dove into the local media scene and created their own local outlets.
This media expansion was never properly regulated and as a result has struggled from a lack of local support. The TV networks have suffered due to the expansion of regional and international satellite television, which is readily and inexpensively available to Palestinian consumers. Once a household installs a satellite dish and transmitter, it is unlikely to return to low-quality local TV unless there is a pressing local problem that only Palestinian TV is covering.
The Israeli reoccupation of the West Bank during the second intifada gave local TV a real purpose. Since then, however, no local issue has grabbed the public and, therefore, local TV has been on the decline. Recent attempts to revive stations have focused on the expected analogue turnoff date in 2015 and the hope that any newly established digital TV conglomerate will be forced to set aside a few TV frequencies for local stations.
Commercial radio has suffered less due to daytime usage on the roads and the help of automatically available mobile phone applications. The relative success of commercial radio has done little, however, to help support local communities. While some nongovernmental and university-connected media have continued to operate, the opportunities in Palestine for developing community radio are quite extensive.
In 2011, a local online radio station was established in the southern-most Palestinian town of Dahriya as part of the work of the Palestine News Network. Dahriya radio’s debut was made possible with a grant from the Swedish government through the work of the Amman-based Community Media Network. Dahriya is one of seven radio stations under the name Aswatona. The others are in Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Yemen.
The six newly established online community stations reflect the Palestinian landscape and needs. Two stations will be based in Gaza, one in Rafah and one in Jabaliya, which will focus on women’s issues. Among the stations in the West Bank, one online station, in the Aza refugee camp, will be dedicated to refugee issues. Another will focus on Nabi Samuel and other East Jerusalem villages facing dire conditions due to the encroaching settlement enterprise. A station dedicated to farming issues will broadcast from near Jenin.
These online stations are supported by a small grant from the United Kingdom's Foreign and Commonwealth office through the Sheffield-based Community Media Solutions. As is the nature of community radio, these locally based media outlets will depend on volunteers and will focus on addressing community needs. While online penetration is on the rise in Palestine, the activists setting up these stations are hoping to eventually move into the low-power FM spectrum to broaden their local audience.
Daoud Kuttab is a contributing writer for Al-Monitor's Palestine Pulse. A Palestinian journalist and media activist, he is a former Ferris Professor of journalism at Princeton University and is currently the director-general of Community Media Network, a not-for-profit organization dedicated to advancing independent media in the Arab region. On Twitter: @daoudkuttab
Continue reading this article by registering at no cost and get unlimited access to:
- The award-winning Middle East Lobbying - The Influence Game
- Archived articles
- Exclusive events
- The Week in Review
- Lobbying newsletter delivered weekly