Saturday, October 24, 2020

The battle for Israel’s airwaves: Netanyahu vs. ‘Palestine 48’ TV

By Zuzana Brezinová - July 17, 2015
Section: [Main News] [Features]
Tags: [Freedom of Speech ] [Israeli law] [Palestinian Authority]


On June 17, the first fully Palestinian state-funded satellite TV channel, 'Palestine 48’ (P48) went live. The network, based in Nazareth in Israel, aspires to give voice to the 20 percent of Israel’s Arab population.


A day after P48 launched, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, ordered the Communication Ministry Director General Shlomo Filber to investigate into the channel’s constitutionality, including the transparency of its funding.


“We will examine all the criminal and administrative means at our disposal to prevent the station’s broadcast,” Filber told Haaretz.


On Thursday, Israeli authorities announced a six month closure of the channel. "I will not allow for Israel's sovereignty to be harmed or for the Palestinian Authority to gain a foothold in Israeli territory," said Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan, according to Al Jazeera.


Sanaa Hammoud, a member of the P48’s advisory board, believes the Communication Ministry's investigation into P48, which may aim to ultimately shut the channel permanently, is part of a larger campaign to, “silence the Arab public and ultimately de-legitimise their citizenship.”


According to Hammoud, Netanyahu’s actions, “endanger the basic freedom of speech and expression,” she told the +972 magazine.


Israeli governmental interference into and control of the Arab cultural and public environment is not unprecedented, and are backed by the Israeli legislative system.


The 1948 Prevention of Terrorism Ordinance, the 1993 Press Ordinance and the 1996 Censorship Act all authorise the Israeli government, as well as the Israeli military, to penalise or shut down any press or broadcasting entity it deems criminal or threatening to national security.


In July 2014, the then Communication Minister, Erdan Gilan, tried to enforce the removal of Al-Jazeera from the list of channels available in Israel, accusing the Qatari-based news network, launched in 1996 as a counterweight to Western and Israeli reporting, of broadcasting what it deemed to be unlawful and provocative material.


In May 2015, the Israeli Communication Ministry suspended funding for the Al-Midan Arab Theatre in Haifa, following the city council’s uproar over staging 'A Parallel Time’, a play written by Bashar Murkus, a 22-year-old Haifa University graduate.


According to Amal Jamal, a political science professor at Tel Aviv University, this systematic targeting of Arab cultural institutions in Israel and restrictions implicating freedom of expression increase the inequality between Arab and Jewish citizens of Israel in official public spaces and intensify the exclusionist nature of the Israeli public sphere.


Palestinian broadcasting activities are usually limited by the number of available frequencies provided to the Palestinian Authority (PA) by Israel, Mashhour Abudaka, the former Palestinian Minister of Communication, told Palestine Monitor.   


This stems from Article 36 of the Oslo Accords and clauses related to the use of telecommunication and broadcasting services that authorise Israel to control all the communication coming in and out of the OPT.


“Officially, Israel allows only for Palestine TV and the Voice of Palestine [radio station] and controls all the transmission gateways,” said Abudaka. Both Palestine TV and the radio station are subsidiaries of the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation (PBC) and operate as official channels of the Palestinian Authority (PA).


“We have seen many examples when the Israeli army raided TV or radio stations in the PA area claiming that their transmission interfered with the Israeli communication networks, especially broadcasts from the settlements,” he added.


However, the 'Palestine 48’ channel is a different case. Relying on international transmission via Gulf channels and Egyptian satellite dishes, it is able to provide Israel’s 1.7 million Arab population with an Arabic-language broadcast void of Israeli governmental interference into its programming.


The CEO of P48, Firas Abdelrahman told the Palestine Monitor that the channel also enjoys support of the broadcasting industry in Israel and cooperates with an Israeli production company in Haifa.


“In Israel, we have the protection of Israeli production companies, however, we are not transmitting through their frequencies,” said Firas Abdelrahman.


He also added that, “the beautiful and interesting thing is that a lot of our viewers are Jews based in Tel Aviv, which demonstrates that there is an interest among Israeli-Jewish population as there are many of them who speak Arabic language.”


According to social media statistics available upon June 28, after two weeks of live broadcast, the P48 channel registered 1.13 million viewers. And Abdelrahman is convinced that the figures will grow once they expand programming and double the broadcasting time.


“Once we begin streaming online and on YouTube, we expect to get even more [followers]. Now we have a live morning and evening show, but we plan on adding an evening programme on culture, social life and some politics as well. This will hopefully start in September,” Abdelrahman told the Palestine Monitor.


Yet, if the P48 channel intends to increase its airtime and switch into 24/7 format while simultaneously retaining its studios in Israel, it needs to obtain a broadcasting licence from the Israeli Ministries of Communication and Interior.  


“I think that if Netanyahu and the Israeli government agree to be a democratic state, they have to accept different views and hopefully, they will give us the licence,” said Abdelrahman.


“There are more than 100 channels in Israel broadcasting in different languages. Likewise, there are Arabic transmissions through satellite dishes from Egypt, Syria, or Lebanon. One channel more or fewer, will not make a difference.”


However, Israelis fear that the new P48 channel could become a mouthpiece for Mahmoud Abbas and his government. Major Israeli news outlets, such as the Times of Israel or Ynet, often refer to P48 as “a propaganda channel” aimed at sparking unrests and incitement against the Israeli state.


Abdelrahman refuted such allegations affirming that neither the PA, nor the PBC interfere in the actual broadcasting and its content. Their role remains limited to providing the necessary funding and administering the P48’s frequencies.


“We have no specific politics,” reasserted Abdelrahman. “We are not the voice of the PA, nor the voice of Abbas.”


“P48 is a pioneering initiative that has been enabled by the newly acquired frequencies that the Israeli authorities recently freed for the PBC’s needs,” Abdelrahman told the Palestine Monitor.


“With this new opportunity, it has become a lot easier to think of one entire channel dedicated to issues that preoccupy the Palestinians inside Israel. There was no such thing before,” said the P48’s CEO.


Many channels, such was 'Hala TV’ or 'Ihna TV’ have tried, but failed due to insufficient funding. “To launch a channel requires a lot of money, especially during the first couple of years. Therefore we opted for state funding,” explains Abdelrahman.


“All the funding that the P48 receives is transparent. We have a specific budget allocated to us within the PBC. This helps us avoid the financial issues that some private initiatives experienced before,” he told the Palestine Monitor.


Nearly a month after the launch of Israeli investigation the channel is still broadcasting and hopes to get more viewers from the Arab world. According to the P48’s CEO, they have already registered interest from Jordan, Syria, Egypt, or the Gulf, as well as Arab communities in Europe.


Abudaka said that, “it would be interesting to see the Arab community within Israel reaching toward the Arab world that does not know much about their problems. I think this is what worries the Israeli policy makers the most,” he added.



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