|Alternative media step in where offical media fail|
|Menassat : Here's what's happening in Arab media.
European and U.S. media support is driving alternative media in the occupied Palestinian territories to compete with the overly politicized official media outlets.
By Fadi Abu Sada in Betlehem
Across most of the Arab world, the local media have often been likened to official state-run media, even when they are not.
Analysts say they are almost uniformly non-independent and most often reflect only one point of view – that of a political party or another interest group. Others have pointed to what they say is an epidemic of unprofessionalism in the media.
Against this backdrop, a debate is emerging in the occupied Palestinian territories as to what role if any the alternative media are playing.
The vast majority of alternative media projects in the Palestinian territories are based on Western funding, whether from the European Union directly, or from European media outlets, or from projects financed by the U.S. State Department, or American media institutions.
A few days ago, the European Union signed on to a number of media projects in the Palestinian territories. Some of these address specific women's and children's issues, others focus on the training of journalists working at local radio stations, while still others hope to promote democracy and respect for human rights through television programming.
"The media environment in the Arab world in general, and in Palestine specifically, lacks free competition due to government control and because powerful families run their respective local media markets," said Daoud Kuttab, director of the Contemporary Media Institution at Al-Quds University. "This leaves journalists with two possibilities: either to cooperate with these governments, or to look for unconditional support elsewhere."
Kuttab, who is a partner in one of the recent E.U. media projects, said: "The European Union offers clear programs, and the methods used to select the projects and the media outlets are transparent, which greatly supports alternative media and leads not only to enhancing and developing them but also to making them a competitor for the official media."
Internews, a U.S.-based NGO focusing on the development of independent media, was one of the organizations that was awarded support from the European Union. Its director, Khaled Abu Akar, said that using local private radio stations is extremely important in spreading the culture of democracy and human rights.
The Internews project is designed to strengthen the independent media sector by training local journalists to produce high-quality radio programs at their own stations. "These types of media literacy programs strongly enhance the concept of alternative media locally," Abu Akar said.
Roy Dickinson, the Operations Director for the European Union in Occupied Jerusalem, said: "Two months ago, we offered the BBC Trust Foundation $1 million in order to operate in Palestine on two levels. The first is based on reforming the Journalists' Syndicate, while the second level is related to training the Palestinian media cadres about greater professionalism."
Dickinson compared Palestinian media favorably to that of the Arab media in general, concluding that the level of professionalism of the local Palestinian media is in fact higher than its counterparts elsewhere in the Arab world.
Of course, there are still huge barriers to a successful alternative media market in Palestinian territories.
For one, it is cost-prohibitive to obtain licenses for radio and TV stations. High production costs and the deteriorating economic situation are also negative factors.
Raba Al-Arja is the director of a special radio project dealing with women's and children's issues. Al-Arja is producing the programming for the Palestine News Network – another institution that received funding from the European Union –, and he says what's important is that these programs are made available for local radio stations to get the word out.
[Full disclosure: the author is the director of the Palestine News Network, Ed.]
"First, these radio stations obtain locally produced programs to raise their level of local radio production, which is a condition for operation, according to the Information Ministry. Second, these programs provide high-quality programming for local stations, and their messages benefit Palestinian society. Third, these radio stations receive financial benefits, which helps them to enhance their journalistic and technical level while Palestinians endure a dismal economic future," Al-Arja said.
With his own program, Al-Arja said, "women and children get to express their opinions about issues that affect them directly. And at its best, this work should convey a sense of urgency straight to the decision-makers who may be able to do something about."
Meanwhile, the larger issue of sustainability is one that all new media ventures will have to contend with as the international peace brokers attempt to forge a new Palestinian state amid the ruins of a failed peace process.
Marseille,01 21 2008