Palestine Pulse

Gazans tune into airwaves to cut through static of war

Article Summary
Because of electrical outages, radio remains the most reliable way for Gazans to follow the news.

RAFAH, GAZA CITY, Gaza Strip — As soon as Israel wages a war against the Gaza Strip, usually accompanied with a blackout, Gazans gather around radios to listen to local radio stations tracking the course of events, the radio broadcast becoming the first and main source of information.

Mohamed Abdel Razek from Rafah sees radio as his companion in times of war. “In addition to being a radio audience in times of peace, my family and I, just like all the residents of the Gaza Strip, rely on radio stations during war times to accurately keep track of the developments," he told Al-Monitor. "We live in constant wars. Radio stations are the only efficient means of information in light of power outages, to elicit news or deliver certain messages.”

Radio stations, be they private or governmental, started broadcasting in the Gaza Strip as of March 2000, when the Palestine Broadcasting Corp. started Voice of Palestine's second program (the first program is broadcasted from Ramallah in the West Bank). In 2002, Sawt al-Horreyah Radio was opened as the first private radio station.

The Palestinian Press and Publication Law of 1995 did not mention the conditions for granting licenses to open and establish private Palestinian radio stations. However, a government decision in 2004 regulated the licensing of radio, television, satellite and wireless stations. A tripartite committee was formed in accordance with the government decision by the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology, the Ministry of Information and the Ministry of Interior, to develop a licensing mechanism for radio, television, satellite and wireless stations and regulate them by issuing licenses.

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The Gaza Strip witnessed a surge of radio stations since the founding of the first station, Voice of Palestine, in 2000, at a rate of almost three radio stations every two years. The deputy head of the Governmental Media Office in Gaza and the general manager of the Press and Publication Department, Salama Maarouf, said that there are 21 radio stations operating in Gaza, including three waiting to get licenses, and eight partisan radio stations.

“We verify the professional documents of the radio’s staff and its programming, and we issue a professional license, while the Ministry of Communications examines technical matters related to frequency, devices and their technical safety conditions," Maarouf told Al-Monitor. "When all of these conditions are met, the tripartite committee meets to submit the relevant recommendation to the Council of Ministers to decide on whether to issue the license or not.”

The number of radio stations has slightly increased over the past seven years, as the tripartite committee has been granting licenses to specialized radio stations. “For two years now, we have only been licensing specialized radio stations, such as sports stations, Quran stations or youth stations,” Maarouf said.

For his part, Amin Wafi, the head of the journalism and media department at the Islamic University of Gaza, believes that the plurality of media platforms is a healthy phenomenon generating competition and serving society. Wafi called for the optimal exploitation of radio stations to serve society in all areas, adding that establishing radio stations that are specialized in specific new fields may circumvent this plurality.

“For example, in the 1950s, there were 3,500 radio stations in the United States," Wafi told Al-Monitor. "The multiplicity and plurality of radio stations is a positive phenomenon, if we take into account the diversity of their work, their characteristics, advantages and ability to be used in various locations, such as in cars and on mobile phones.”

Wafi reproaches the majority of radio stations in the Gaza Strip for their lack of program planning, saying, “Radio stations in Gaza say there are plans, but the listeners of these radio stations found that only few of them have clear, declared and carefully studied program-related plans. We need to whisper in the ears of those in charge of radio stations that they must have plans to deliver their message.”

Wafi believes that partisan radio stations in Gaza are governed by the rules of the party they are affiliated with rather than by professional rules, and therefore many of these stations became unprofessional. He added, “Partisan radio stations emerged because of the nature of the Palestinian cause. They will be a positive phenomenon if they relate the concerns of the homeland and the citizen. For example, partisan press in France is more prevalent than independent press, because it believes that the more it becomes closer to the citizen and involved in his life, the more it will have social responsibility and be beneficial to its party. Partisan radio stations in Gaza are short-sighted and narrow-minded and work according to the rules of the party they are affiliated with, which reflects on their professional performance, coverage and treatment of national issues.”

Al-Buraq Radio, a partisan radio station that began broadcasting in Gaza in 2007, tracks the movement of the popular resistance. Director-General of al-Buraq Rizk Arouk told Al-Monitor that the media activity witnessed in Gaza over the past 10 years is the result of ongoing wars, in addition to the cultural and political diversity characterizing Gaza.

“Radio stations in Gaza express the diverse political and cultural spectrum," Arouk said. "The ongoing incidents and wars in the Gaza Strip urgently necessitated easily accessible media in light of [electricity] blackouts, closure [of tunnels] and blockades imposed on Gaza. Therefore, the only [viable] option was to establish radio stations.”

Arouk indicated that radio stations in Gaza face numerous problems, the most important of which are technical difficulty due to the blockade and lack of money. “Radio stations in Gaza do not meet the international technical specifications as they have simplistic equipment and do not rely [on] modern technology like world radio stations," he said. "The occupation does not allow the entry of modern equipment to Gaza. On the other hand, there is a lack of modern equipment in the Gaza Strip, since the occupation prevents [its] entry, in addition to the lack of equipment spare parts to replace any damaged or defective equipment in the station, which interrupts their broadcasting.”

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Found in: war, radio, palestine, media, gaza strip, gaza blockade, gaza attacks

Mohammed Othman is a journalist from the Gaza Strip. He graduated from the Faculty of Media in the Department of Radio and Television at Al-Aqsa University in Gaza in 2009. He has received a number of Palestinian and Arab awards, including first place at the Arab Press Awards in Dubai in the category of Youth Press during its tenth session in 2011 and the Press Freedom Award from the Palestinian Government Media Center during its first session in 2011. He also received the third place award for investigative reporting of corruption cases, organized by the Media Development Center at Birzeit University and the Anti-Corruption Commission in 2013. 

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