Hamas-Fatah : Media war in Palestine

by Karim Lebhour

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Sami Abdel Shafi: This is a great piece. Not only does it precisely represent the media situation in the occupied Palestinian (...)

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The use of affiliated media by two rival Palestinian factions to slam each other, greatly damaged independent journalism development in the Palestinian territories

Editorial by Karim Lebhour, former resident radio advisor in the Palestinian Territories for Internews Europe’s project “Radio networking for democracy”

When the Islamist party Hamas took over the Gaza Strip last June, the fighting was not restricted to the ground. A media war was raging too. Each side used its affiliated media to slam the other, inciting hatred.

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Karim Lebhour, former resident radio advisor in the Palestinian Territories

Fatah’s radio stations, as well as the state-owned Public Broadcasting Corporation (TV) and the Voice of Palestine radio station would frequently refer to “Hamas murderers” or even, sometimes, “shiia militias”, while pro-Hamas stations slammed the “Fatah traitors and collaborators”, calling for the end to “the era of corruption”.

I happened to spend time in the pro-Fatah radio station Sawt Al Shabab on the last day of the fighting. While the main security headquarters were on the verge of falling into Hamas’ hands, the news presenter continued to tell his audience that Hamas was lying and that Fatah forces were holding well.

Four months later, the media situation in the Palestinian Territories has not much improved. Broadcast media affiliated to Fatah have stopped operating in Gaza, while the Al Aqsa TV studio (owned by Hamas) in Ramallah has been shut down. Journalists are exposed to threats on both sides, in Gaza, as well as in the West Bank, controlled by the Palestinian Authority. This has only eroded news diversity and the confidence Palestinians might have in their own media.

A Gazan lawyer recently told me that he could only rely on foreign media to know what was happening on his doorstep. “When you turn on Palestinian TV you see that everyone is being killed or kidnapped by Hamas. And the opposite is true on Al Aqsa TV with Fatah,” he said. The problem is that we don’t have professional journalists. They are all politically affiliated. Half of them are with Fatah and the other half with Hamas.”

Although significant progress has been made in freedom of expression in the past years, Palestinian media are still affected by the legacy of self-censorship that developed as a result of the authority’s censorship, enforced throughout the Oslo period. In the newsroom of the main private radio station in Ramallah, Radio Ajyal, several notices are posted on the wall such as “Don’t forget Palestine” or “A curse on those who threaten our national unity”. Such attitudes, considered to be patriotic in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, make it even more difficult to build an independent media system which can carry out its role as a watchdog for democracy.

Palestinian media capacity is also hindered by financial hardships. The truth is that there are plenty of professional Palestinian journalists, but in a region that attracts so much media attention, most of them have found more secure and better rewarded jobs with foreign media companies. Palestinian media simply cannot compete with offers made by Al Jazeera, Al Arabya or even a job as an assistant producer for a Western network. For over a year, due to the international boycott of the Hamas government, salaries in the state-owned media were simply not paid. On the other hand, the collapsing economy in the Palestinian Territories and the tiny advertising market, left virtually no financial resources at all for the privately owned media, with the result that station managers cannot offer much to their staff.

I could not agree more with Internews Europe’s director John West when he wrote in his last editorial ’’Funders, thinking of Investing in PSB? Don’t!’’ that lot of money has been wasted funding public service broadcasting. If we are to improve media quality and diversity in Palestinian Territories, I would strongly advise the development of a partnership with universities, rather than the commercial or public media sectors. A “model radio” for instance could be created with a few qualified professionals, modern equipment and the good will of many students anxious to start a career in the media field, using only limited resources.

Qualified and independent Palestinian journalists are greatly needed, while Israelis and Palestinians are on the verge of starting new peace talks during the Annapolis conference. Israelis often complain that Palestinian leaders only make concessions behind closed doors and do not present them for public debate. It is about time that Palestinian media efficiently question their leaders on the issues that are going to determine the future of the region.

Drafted on the 23rd of October 2007

3 Forum messages

  • Hamas-Fatah : Media war in Palestine

    27 November 2007 18:08, by David M. Hoffman
    Very well done. I would like to publish this on the Internews Network site, if it’s OK with you. I think this op-ed series and the way it is distributed is very effective.

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  • Hamas-Fatah : Media war in Palestine

    30 November 2007 14:35, by Gilles Kraemer
    As I have been a long time trainer in journalism for european or french programs abroad, I also consider as a priority to train young people at the very beginning, in professional schools or universities. After, the basics are rarely understood and respected. In the case of Palestinian territories, it is even more accurate because radio or tv are now too politically implemented and not enough respected by the public opinion.

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  • Hamas-Fatah : Media war in Palestine

    13 December 2007 11:42, by Sami Abdel Shafi
    This is a great piece. Not only does it precisely represent the media situation in the occupied Palestinian Territories but it also highlights some very important reasons why Palestinians have, in many respects, failed to effectively communicate their cause to the outside world. Independent and professional journalism would not only serve Palestinians well internally, it would also help advance the understanding of their cause and the importance of pursuing peace much more effectively.

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