RAMALLAH - A state-run television channel and a few domestic terrestrial stations, which mostly re-run programmes from other satellite channels, are almost all that is on offer in the Palestinian Territories. Two other outlets — Al Aqsa, set up by Hamas in Gaza, and Al Quds, which many brand as Hamas-light — are partisan stations. The private sector, so far, has shown very little interest in television broadcast, probably due to the uncertainty that characterises the situation in Palestine and the considerably high risks involved in launching a private television channel.
Today, after years of state-run or partisan media outlets in Palestine, the time has come for a new satellite television channel that is entirely private: a channel that does not belong to a particular political party or governmental body but one that aspires to reflect the interests of the overwhelming majority of Palestinians, those living in the Palestinian territories and in the Diaspora. Such a channel would also provide the Israeli enemy/neighbour with a unique window onto aspects of Palestinian society with which it is completely unfamiliar.
For years, Palestinians have been stereotyped all over the world as terrorists or religious fundamentalists, and accused of being incapable of coping with the changing world around them. And when the second Palestinian uprising against Israel broke out in 2000, images of death, wounded people, destruction and wailing women dominated the screens and came to represent Palestinian society in peoples’ minds. But are these the only images? Do Palestinians live only one mode of life? These were the questions asked when deciding to launch the first truly private television channel in Palestine.
For all of their anguish, Palestinians know how to live a normal life. For the overwhelming majority of them, life goes on, for the good and bad. And while people cannot change their past, they can surely shape their future, provided they have the tools. An objective and highly professional television channel can help provide at least some of these tools.
Such a station can also play a very significant role in bridging gaps and mending fences with the “enemy/ neighbour” next door. For years, the Israeli public has been subjected to one kind of Palestinian media discourse, one that focuses more on the conflict and less on its resolution. In my opinion, most of the efforts made over the past years to solve the Palestinian-Israeli conflict have failed only because of the lack of understanding between the two nations. Failure to understand the other exacerbates the conflict and makes it harder to achieve reconciliation.
A private television station that can show the Israeli public a different angle on life in Palestine can help counter many of the antagonistic perceptions that Israelis have about Palestinians and vice-versa.
A modern, state of the art and open television channel in Palestine can open doors for a more civilised debate between the two nations, as well as within their own constituencies. Palestinians need a professional media outlet that tells their Israeli neighbours that across the Green Line, the Separation Barrier or the Israeli army checkpoints lives a nation that aspires to freedom and liberty no less than the Israelis themselves.
Palestinians living inside Israel are by default an integral part of the targeted audience of such a station. Their experience of life in Israel should, therefore, become part of the programme grid of any private television channel that strives to reach out to as many interested audience members as possible.
The station should strive to feature locally produced cultural, educational, arts, sports and entertainment programmes, covering various aspects of Palestinian life in the Palestinian territories, inside Israel and abroad. It should also guide the Arab and Palestinian public toward a promising future by promoting a free, democratic, open and tolerant community, while at the same time advocating a culture of life, joy and promise, as opposed to a culture of death, tears and pain.
With 65% of the Palestinian population below the age of 25, a television channel should dedicate considerable programming time to a young audience. The youth factor is very important for every nation that looks towards a better future. This is why the Palestinian public needs programmes that address religious extremism and promote enlightened thinking, encouraging the youth to adopt a culture of open dialogue and acceptance of the other. Young Palestinians could also be encouraged to produce their own dramas and documentaries that address their interests and concerns which could then be aired on TV.
We have high hopes that our new private satellite channel, Palestine Tomorrow, will be capable of achieving these goals and attracting viewers from all over the world. For such a vision we require a self-sustaining and profitable business model that can generate revenues through the sale of advertising, public participation in television contests and other sponsorship, and sale of locally produced programmes and reports.
Setting up the channel is indeed an expensive endeavour, but doable and well worth the effort.
* Elias Zananiri is the CEO of Palestine Tomorrow TV Satellite Channel in Ramallah, Palestine. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).
Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 30 July 2009, www.commongroundnews.org
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