First Independent Palestinian News Program Bolsters Civil Society

First Independent Palestinian News Program Bolsters Civil Society

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maan-news-agency Less than two months ago, from a humble, but well-equipped studio in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, two young television anchors presented the first broadcast of a new nightly newscast that could prove to be significant for Palestinian civil society.

As the first independent Palestinian media organization, Ma’an News Agency has already been publishing news in Arabic and English since 2005 on its website. The benefits of their new satellite television program are quickly becoming apparent.

As Palestinians are moving forward with institution-building and law enforcement, a greater need for transparency in government can only be fulfilled by the presence of a free and independent media. Along with the free flow of information, the freedom to voice opinions and criticisms are essential for civic participation.

In general, television news has been delivered by non-Palestinians on channels such as Qatar’s Al Jazeera, Saudi Arabia’s Al Arabiya and sometimes the UK’s BBC, and the coverage has largely focused on issues in other parts of the world, especially since the Arab uprisings began.

Ma’an is an unaffiliated, non-profit media organization, which gives the newscast credibility on the Palestinian street. The competition comes from two politically affiliated channels: Palestine TV, associated with the Fatah-dominated Palestine Liberation Organisation and Al Aqsa TV, which is linked to Hamas. The fact that Ma’an is unaffiliated is good news for those who want to see the development of a viable civic culture. A media that is free to both praise the standard of government services on one hand, and criticise policies and report on corruption and mismanagement on the other, will support a shift to democratic and transparent politics.

Ma’an Network is a partnership between independent journalists throughout Palestine, including nine local television stations and nine local radio stations. The hour-long newscast receives reports from these stations on a direct uplink, thus giving voice to people from different sectors, particularly those from marginalized areas.

Palestinian womens radio, VOA photoAn important topic featured in the newscast is the split between the West Bank and Gaza. Since the division in 2007 between the big two rival parties – Fatah (which governs the West Bank) and Hamas (which governs Gaza) – Palestinian media has also split along these lines. Ma’an adds important balance to the media scene because it maintains an office and correspondents in Gaza who deliver up-to-date news from there.

This independence also allows the channel to tackle issues and concerns neglected by other television stations. For example, a few weeks ago a Ma’an report discussed a civil servants’ strike over unpaid wages while other channels decided to ignore it. It also covered the high school general exam system, Tawjihi, and its flaws. These debates then prompt new reflection and discussion in Palestinian civil society. For example, Khalil Shaker, a university lecturer, states: ”When media raise issues that concern people, it gives them a platform to talk and reach decision makers.“

The content on this channel is co-produced by Ma’an and the Palestinian-Israeli Mix channel, which creates a unique “mix” between Palestinians living in Israel and Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza. The cooperation between Mix and Ma’an opens new opportunities for communication between the two communities.

Launched with generous funding from Denmark and the Netherlands, Ma’an’s noble ambition to seek the highest professional standards doesn’t imply that their work is yet perfect. As usual, beginnings are rough. Some of the news coverage, such as the reports on various workshops or courses happening in the Territories, are not considered compelling viewing. The editing of the newscast can still be improved, as can the arrangement of content.

These flaws are, however, improving rapidly and the programme seems well on its way to achieving the goal of becoming a different kind of television station on the Palestinian scene, one that gives voice to real people and their stories.

Nida’ Tuma is a freelance journalist who lives in Ramallah.

(Written for the Common Ground News Service and reprinted with permission)