Nibal Thawabteh, editor-in-chief of the monthly Al-Hal
paper, discusses the current and future working conditions of the
Palestinian media, which suffer on many levels from the absence of an
existing societal and legal structure.
Anyone wishing to take the pulse of press
freedom in Palestine these days would need to listen to the heartbeats of our
colleagues - when Al-Jazeera's vehicles are blown up; the moment when armed
members of Fatah, Hamas or unidentified armed peoplebreak into our offices.
"Why," asked a female student of
media and communication, "are our journalists beaten, insulted and
threatened? I am scared."
"Do not fear," I told her,
"but you need to decide if you want to join this battle. We are all
fighters. And in wars, there are only two choices: victory or defeat,
considering that dying for a principle in which one believes will in fact
amount to a victory."
Here I shall try to give some examples to
best answer the question of the future journalist.
All those involved in our media, whether
official or civil society, believe that responsible media should have a
supervisory role, which is also why they are called the Fourth Estate. But what
is one to do when there is neither a First Estate, nor a Second Estate, nor a
Third Estate? Can one have a Fourth Estate, then?
Perhaps we need to start a countdown until our conditions improve. Perhaps if we start working on the Fourth Estate, it can lead us to the Third, then to the Second, and then we will reach the First. There are a number of other countries where the media played a role in setting up the pillars of the state.
At the same time, press freedom also
requires an independent judiciary which could stand in the face of violations
by the government, different groups or individuals. For instance, in April
2005, the Al-Hal newspaper ("Now" in Arabic) ran a front page story on
the subject of "Al Zawag Alaorfy" in Palestine (a non-offical marriage in which the woman has no legal rights, common throughout the Arab region). The story accompanied by the
picture of Basma, a woman involved in such a case, and her three sons who had
not been given birth certificates due to the illegality of these "marriages".
Following the newspaper article, the court dealt with the matter, even though
it took three months, and she received an identity card with the names of her
husband and her three sons. This calls for optimism. Here we are, affecting and
changing a very important issue. The media coverage of the case led many other
Basmas to open their hearts and speak about the injustices they had suffered.
That is more than enough for us.
A free media environment also requires a general,
democratic culture to nurture and support it, a culture that enjoys popular and
official endorsement, acknowledging the legitimacy of differences of views,
different approaches in news coverage and the comments that are presented to
When, for the first time in the history of
the Palestinian press, Al-Hal wrote about lesbianism on 1 June 2005, the
world got turned upside down and never regained its shape again. How did we
dare publish something so controversial? We were indeed burned by the heat, but
it is noteworthy that many readers contacted us to thank us for dealing with
this great taboo in the Palestinian society.
Everybody also believes that a free press
needs to be responsible, constructive and impartial in order to perform its
duties to the best of its abilities. Many a time, those in the media do believe
in the principles of democracy, pluralism, integrity and impartiality, but do
not possess the skills that are needed to represent these values and implement
them in their media practice.
I am not sure on which side the scales
would tilt if we were to weigh our media- failures and fiascos, or
achievements. I am sure, however, that we have enough to weigh - professional
journalists who try constantly to add to the weight of achievements.
Nibal Thawabteh is the
editor-in-chief of the Palestinian Al-Hal monthly newspaper. She also works as
the TV Unit Coordinator at Birzeit University and writes short stories.