Palestinian children suffer from a lack of appropriate TV programming

by Daoud Kuttab
RAMALLAH - Television penetration in Palestine is nearly 100 percent. Almost every home—no matter how poor the family—has a tube in its sitting room. Television viewership is higher than average amongst Palestinians for two main reasons: Because of the continuing conflict, people feel the need to watch television to keep up with the events in the news that directly affect their lives. Also, with high levels of insecurity and troubles outside the home, the television is often the only source of entertainment.

But although Palestinian families spend many hours a day glued to their TV sets, original Palestinian children’s programming is almost non-existent. Instead, hours of dubbed Japanese and other types of cartoons fill the airwaves, especially in key children’s viewing hours. Such dubbed programming usually falls into one of three potentially disadvantageous categories; it is dubbed into classical Arabic (in order to ensure sales in all 23 Arab countries), it consists of imported programming with violent content, or it revolves around religious themes.

Programmes broadcast in classical Arabic are just as difficult for pre-school Palestinian children to understand as, for example, a children’s programme spoken in Shakespearean English is to children in the United Kingdom.

Spacetoons and MBC 3, which are 24-hour children’s stations, are broadcast throughout the Arab world and feature highly violent imported cartoons or entertainment programmes in classical Arabic. Al Jazeera Children, while much more cognisant of its programming content, is rather serious and it too uses classical Arabic in order to appeal to the entire Arab world.

The trouble is that the cost of producing children’s programming for the local market tends to be high. And without a strong political will or an advertising base to support it, broadcasters prefer to stick to dubbed imports.

Palestinian children badly need programming that can address their own issues. This need is all the more pressing considering the fact that over 65 percent of all Palestinian children have no access to pre-school education. In this context, television producers have the power, if they so choose, to make a big difference. They can create educational programmes that speak to the specific lives of Palestinian children. They can also offer children a respite from the tensions that surround them and an alternative to the high level of violence found in imported programmes.
The closed nature of Palestinian society under occupation has its effect on an entire generation growing-up intolerant of the other, whether the other is from a different region, religion, political persuasion, or from different national or ethnic backgrounds.

In the Palestinian Territories the vast quantity of television programming that is neither geared to Palestinian children’s dialect nor to their social, cultural and political environment, does little to help raise well-rounded and well-adjusted individuals.

But there are some signs that the lack of attention to the education of young children is being reversed. Recently the Ministry of Education has begun to pay greater attention to pre-school children and this group features highly in the current five-year plan. Non-governmental organisations have also shown interest in addressing children in these formative years.

While this attention focuses primarily on the deficiencies within the formal pre-school education system, more attention should be paid to the media. To this end, the government, private sector media companies, as well as local and international NGOs, must come together and create strategic partnerships that would produce politically and culturally relevant programming tailored especially for Palestinian children.


* Daoud Kuttab is the founder and director of PenMedia, a Palestinian media NGO that is producing Shara’a Simsim, the Palestinian version of Sesame Street. He can be reached at: This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews) and is part of a special series on informal education in the Israeli-Palestinian context.

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 24 December 2009,
Copyright permission is granted for publication.
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