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Palestinians Target Need for Media Reform

Policy paper probes media’s role in training, protecting journalists

Ramallah, West Bank – A new policy paper examining the legal, legislative, technological and political needs of Palestinian media was presented to journalists in Ramallah on Tuesday. Several organizations including the International Federation of Journalists and the Palestinian Broadcasting Corporation, the “Policy Paper on Media Reform and Development in Palestine During 2017” seek to identify the reforms, initiatives and technology necessary to improve the ability of journalists to gather and distribute information, do so free from government control and self-censorship, and to find ways to pay for it.

The paper calls for new laws on freedom of information and freedom of the press, better training for journalists — especially in new and digital media — and finding new ways of attracting investment in media.“We need legislation to guarantee the right environment for journalists to work free from the threat of imprisonment,” Munir Zaarour, the Middle East and Arab World Coordinator of the International Federation of Journalists told The Media Line. “We also need new tools for storytelling in line with technical and digital tools. This will need a lot of investment.”

By way of example, Zaarour cited the difficulties Palestinian journalists experience when they need to access information while facing a deadline. For such situations, which are commonplace, the paper calls for Freedom of Information laws to be enacted.

Not surprisingly, a common theme permeating the explanations offered by Palestinian officials was that Israel and the occupation make it harder for Palestinian journalists to do their work. According to one official, such interference is policy rather than circumstance. “Israel targets Palestinian journalists,” Ammar Dweik, General Director of the Independent Commission for Human Rights told The Media Line. “Some are imprisoned and others are detained without trial. This is in violation of the 4th Geneva Convention.”

Yet, blame was not directed exclusively toward Israel. Dweik was also critical of the Palestinian Authority, the ruling body in control of the West Bank and the Islamist Hamas faction, rulers over the Gaza Strip since wrestling it away in a violent coup in 2007, charging both entities with unlawfully arresting journalists who are doing their job by covering demonstrations. In some cases, security forces have confiscated cameras. According to Dweik, the constant fear of arrest leads many journalists to practice self-censorship.

According to the report’s sponsors, Palestinian journalists are not well paid, meaning that many have to moonlight in order to make a living. Some journalists also hold positions in government, a situation that would be unacceptable in most Western countries where media is meant to be part of a system of checks and balances that keeps the government from gaining too much power.
Monir Zaarour of the International Federation of Journalists explained to The Media Line that journalists working for governments is a problem endemic to the region. He said the IFJ is striving to transform state-run media to public sector media so that they are independent editorially and financially.

Zaarour also flagged the need for better training for working journalists citing the fact that hundreds of invitations to send employees to partake in training programs land on editors’ desks yearly, but that more often than not, after the program, the journalists are not able to implement what they have learned. “There are six media schools in Palestine but students graduate and still do not understand what journalism is,” he said.

Another element of Palestinian journalism that would be considered out of bounds in the West was what several speakers described as the media’s place in the struggle for an independent Palestinian state.

“Journalists play a major role in shaping public opinion in the struggle against Israeli occupation,” Ali Abu Dyak, the Minister of Justice in the Palestinian Authority told the journalists gathered in Ramallah. “The army of journalists is continuing the battle against occupation and will continue the struggle until liberation.”

Most of the attendees at the conference were male, even though more than half of today’s graduates from journalism schools in the West Bank are women. There are about 350 new journalism graduates every year but far fewer positions available so the struggle to find jobs is considerable.

Journalists need more specialized training, speakers said, especially in better use of social media. Also mentioned was the need to provide updated equipment to the approximately one hundred radio stations broadcasting in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The reform proposal calls for the media itself and government to work together to reform the media, and improve its content. “It is now time to agree upon and carry out a comprehensive reform process that would enable the media sector to fulfill its role towards the Palestinian people and provide a public space built on news, reports and analysis so that citizens can participate in discussions and dialogue of interest to their future, and the future of their children in an informed fact-based manner.”

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