Commercial radio in Palestine is growing strong despite obstacles, and remains a popular source of news and entertainment. Vibhuti Arora finds out what it takes to broadcast from a conflict zone While in many international markets, radio has suffered a decline in revenues as a result of the shift to digital platforms, it remains resilient […]
Commercial radio in Palestine is growing strong despite obstacles, and remains a popular source of news and entertainment. Vibhuti Arora finds out what it takes to broadcast from a conflict zone
While in many international markets, radio has suffered a decline in revenues as a result of the shift to digital platforms, it remains resilient in the Arab region. In fact, radio has displayed a robust growth rate in most Arab countries, owing to a proliferation of private FM channels. Radio remains a preferred medium in conflict zones for its reach and accessibility, and Palestine is no exception.
Commercial radio has been going strong in Palestine despite the conflict, with success attributed to daytime usage on the roads and mobile phone applications. According to JMCC.org (Jerusalem Media and Communications Centre), 62% of Palestinians listen to radio frequently between 6am and 6pm.
With more than 80 stations, radio continues to be a popular medium for news and entertainment in Palestine and it is constantly evolving, according to Walid Nassar, CEO of Ajyal Radio Network, a homegrown Palestinian radio station. Ajyal Radio has grown steadily since its launch in 1999. Focusing mainly on Palestinian and regional news, the network covers politics, social services, finance, sports commentary and religious programming.
97% of its programming is produced in Palestine. The network boasts of three channels under the ARN (Ajyal Radio Network) umbrella: Ajyal FM ‘Ajyal’ means ‘generations’ targeting a broad spectrum of listeners; Angham FM, with an all-female presenter team, targeting young people; and Ramallah FM, which plays non-stop music from Ramallah City, for an age-group that is between 13 and 25 years.
“We offer many music shows with 70% Arabic music and 30% Palestinian music. Although we do not have a big library of Palestinian music, we do offer local music shows to keep the focus on locally generated content, as thats what our audience wants,” comments Nassar.
The network offers 22 FM frequencies in all Palestinian cities, covering the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem. It is broadcast in Palestine, with some spillover into Jordan (Palestine also receives Jordanian radio channels).
“We have a number of listeners outside Palestine. We re-run some programmes due to the time difference, especially with North and South America, where Ajyal Radio is quite popular,” says Nassar.
“We mainly broadcast local news from Palestine, almost 30% of listeners in Palestine tune in to Ajyal Radio Network. According to a private survey made by the British Council, Ajyal Radio Network has 1.5 million listeners. Thats why they chose our frequencies to run the BBC’s Learning English radio programme,” Nassar adds.
While news and entertainment are popular, ARNs radio investigation stories are its top offering and remain its USP. The station also functions as a link between the local population and the government.
“We are a specialist in Radio Investigation Stories (RIS). What makes us popular is the fact that we focus on peoples needs and fulfil them. The vast majority of our news and programmes focus on local issues and topics, because there is a demand for that,” claims Nassar.
The station often reports on the local government’s performance.
“We do not have a working Palestinian parliament [since the division between Fateh and Hamas in 2006], so radio plays a key role in voicing people’s opinions,” explains Nassar.
The topography of Palestine poses a major challenge in establishing a terrestrial broadcast infrastructure. 75% of Palestinians live in cities surrounded by mountains, and in conflict zones, it is hard to cover news from all parts of the state.
“Our reporters have been attacked and violated by Israeli soldiers on several occasions. Our staff cannot reach the radio station, especially if they live outside the central station city of Ramallah, as they are stopped at Israeli checkpoints. We face the same problem when we go to inspect our stations outside the cities for maintenance purposes. There is interference with our frequencies from the Israeli side, especially from their settlements in the West Bank,” comments Nassar.
However, he claims that the network “has very smart engineers to keep up with the latest advancements in technology, despite the many hurdles we face”.
“We also have a new fibre terrestrial network infrastructure in Palestine.”
Ajyal Radio Network uses the fibre SHDSL VPN system, which allows us to connect all our FM sites with excellent connectivity.
“In the West Bank and Jerusalem, we have many frequencies that are given by the Israeli Army to the settlers in Israeli settlements. If we do not use these, Israel will.”
Nassar laments the challenge of living off short-term plans and implementing them as quickly as possible because of the volatile situation in the state.
“Long-term plans dont work for us. We have to act quickly lest its too late, as the future is so uncertain for us. I hope to see a day when I can plan just like my peers do in other parts of the world. But living in a conflict zone, we dont have that luxury; we take each day as it comes. At times, we have had to go with plan D, as our A, B and C plans fail. My dream is to live in a free country with no more occupation. We take it as our duty to reach out to our people and keep them well informed.”
ARN offers each Palestinian city its own dedicated radio station. The network has 22 stations across the state, giving locals a sense of association with their station.
The 22 radios include one central and ten repeaters for Ajyal FM, which makes 11 frequencies; one central and nine repeaters for Angham FM; and one central for Ramallah FM. Nassar explains that any repeater can become the central one if there is a big event in that city. For instance, if Nablus has an event, it becomes the central station and the other cities are repeaters.
Radio Magazine, presented by Mayson Manasra, has been driving the ratings up with 70% of ARN listeners tuning into the show. Ajyal This Morning is another popular show, and Shadows on the Other Side, presented by Fathi Barqawi, has a high percentage of listeners in the morning and during midday. However, the most listened-to programme features folk songs.
The stations are manned by 38 full-time staff and 12 part-timers, and are mainly funded by advertising revenues from various sectors including telecom, internet, banking, consumer goods and education.