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Analysis: Hamas’s Al-Aqsa TV under fire at home and abroad

BBC Monitoring

Analysis by Peter Feuilherade of BBC Monitoring on 15 August

The power struggle between rival Palestinian factions Fatah and Hamas is increasingly reflected in attempts by both sides to assert their control over media outlets.

Earlier this week, the Hamas-controlled Executive Force intervened to stop journalists covering a demonstration by PLO factions in Gaza. The Dubai-based pan-Arab satellite channel Al-Arabiya reported that Hamas gunmen raided its Gaza bureau on 13 August and confiscated equipment after a crew from the channel filmed the demonstration.

On 15 August, a US-based news organization reported that the Palestinian caretaker government was making "strenuous efforts" to stop transmissions of Al-Aqsa TV, the pro-Hamas Gaza-based satellite channel.

Al-Aqsa TV, meanwhile, is again the target of international criticism after it broadcast a programme showing animals allegedly being abused. The Hamas outlet says the offending clip was intended to educate young viewers and to send a message opposing cr! uelty to animals.

"Poisonous channel"

The website of The Media Line, a New York-based organization, on 15 August quoted Palestinian Information Minister Riyad al-Maliki as saying: "We are trying to close Al-Aqsa TV... I've sent letters to the board of directors of NileSat and ArabSat, who allow this poisonous channel to broadcast."

The Media Line describes itself as a "non-profit news organization established to enhance and balance media coverage in the Middle East, promote independent reporting in the region, and break down barriers to understanding in the Arab and Israeli journalism communities".

The report said Al-Maliki was speaking to a group of more than 20 Israeli journalists who had visited Ramallah at the invitation of The Media Line's Mideast Press Club to learn more about the Palestinian media.

Al-Maliki said he had met officials from Egypt and other countries "in an effort to press them to take immediate action against Al-Aqsa TV's broad! casts," The Media Line report added.

"The channel spreads hatred, not only against Jews and Israel, but also against fellow Palestinians," it quoted Al-Maliki as saying.

Al-Aqsa TV began test programming shortly after Hamas won the legislative elections in January 2006, and later started broadcasting via satellite.

The station attracted international attention in June 2007 when it featured a character named Farfur, a Mickey Mouse look-alike, advocating Palestinian attacks against Israelis.

Farfur was later beaten to death by an actor depicted as an Israeli, but was succeeded a few weeks later by a new character, Nahoul the bee, who pledged to follow his predecessor on "the path of martyrdom", the Jerusalem Post reported on 16 July.

Al-Maliki said the Palestinian government was also trying to end the broadcasts of Al-Aqsa Radio, transmitted by Hamas, and to ensure that programmes from the (pro-Fatah) Voice of Palestine could be heard throughout ! Gaza.

The website published a photo of Riyad al-Maliki with Isra el Radio Director-General Yoni Ben Menachem and The Media Line's President Felice Friedson.

It did not specify when or where the photo was taken.

Animal rights group slams "shocking" Hamas TV clip

Pro-Hamas Al-Aqsa TV came under renewed criticism on 15 August when the animal rights group PETA condemned it for broadcasting a clip allegedly showing an actor dressed as a bee mistreating a cat and lions at Gaza Zoo, Reuters news agency reported.

The clip was posted on the YouTube video-sharing website after being recorded and translated by pro-Israeli group Palestinian Media Watch.

In the studio, the actor was reprimanded by the programme's host, who warned children not to mimick the bee's "terrible" behaviour.

Battle for media control

"Palestinian schoolbooks and media organizations continue to present Israelis as murderers and looters and to promote hatred of Israel through denial of its right to exist," said Itamar Marcus, director of the pro-Israeli monitoring group Palestinian Media Watch. His views were quoted on the Korean news website www.ohmynews.com on 15 August.

Palestinian TV broadcasting content has shown a shift since March 2006, Marcus was reported as saying. While incitement to violence against Israel and Jews is a "pervasive element" in the Hamas-controlled media, Fatah TV nowadays tends to minimize its exhortations to violence, to avoid sabotaging the Palestinian Authority and efforts by President Mahmud Abbas to regain international credibility, Marcus believed.

Hamas supporters, for their part, say they are also victims of media restrictions imposed by their Fatah rivals.

In a posting on the Hamas internet forum on 24 July,! Kamal, a forum supervisor, posted a message calling on Palestinians in the West Bank to document any attacks on Hamas. "We are all aware of the tight grip on the media in the West Bank, which are prohibited from taking footage of Fatah assaults and crimes against our people," he wrote, adding that Al-Aqsa TV cannot document these violations owing to the "persecution" of its crew in the West Bank.

In the present atmosphere in both areas of the Palestinian territories, attacks on the media are escalating. The likely outcome is yet more restrictions on the right of journalists to work freely and without self-censorship.

Source: BBC Monitoring research 15 Aug 07


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