Daoud Kuttab
The Daily Star
January 5, 2010 - 1:00am

Television penetration in the Palestinian territories is nearly 100 percent. Almost every home – no matter how poor the family – has a television set in its sitting room. Television viewership is higher than average among Palestinians for two primary reasons: First, because of the continuing conflict, people feel the need to watch television to keep up with the events that will often directly affect their lives. And second, with high levels of insecurity and trouble lying outside Palestinian homes, the television has often become the only source of entertainment.

Although Palestinian families spend many hours a day glued to their televisions, original Palestinian-created programming for children is almost non-existent. Instead, viewers have to do with many hours of dubbed Japanese and other types of cartoons filling the airwaves, especially during the key viewing hours for children. Such dubbed programming usually falls into one of three potentially categories, each of which offers its own disadvantages when it comes to the education of children; the programs are dubbed into classical Arabic (in order to ensure their sales in all of the 23 Arab countries); they consist of imported programming and often contain violent content; or they revolve around religious themes.

Programs broadcast in classical Arabic are, quite simply, quite difficult for pre-school Palestinian children to understand. They are tantamount, for example, to obliging children in English-language countries to comprehending programs whose characters speak in Shakespearean English.

Then there is the violence. Take two channels, Spacetoons and MBC 3, both of which offer 24-hours of programming for children. They are broadcast throughout the Arab world and often feature highly violent imported cartoons, as well as the entertainment programs that are in classical Arabic. The Al-Jazeera Children channel, while much more cognizant of the appropriateness of its programming content for children, has the disadvantage of being rather serious in its presentation, and it too uses classical Arabic in order to appeal to the entire Arab market.

The main problem is that the cost of producing children’s programming for the local Palestinian market tends to be high. And without a strong political will or an advertising base to support such an endeavor, television broadcasters prefer to stick to their habit of beaming out dubbed imports.

Yet the fact is that Palestinian children badly need programming that can address their own issues. This need is all the more pressing considering the fact that over 65 percent of all Palestinian children have no access to pre-school education. In this context, television producers have the power, if they so choose, to make a big difference. They can create educational programs that speak to the specific lives and experiences of Palestinian children. They can also offer children a respite from the tensions that surround them and an alternative to the high levels of violence found in the imported programs.

The closed nature of Palestinian society under occupation has had its effect on an entire generation that has grown up intolerant of the other, whether the other is from a different region, religion, political persuasion, or from a different national or ethnic background. In the Palestinian territories most of the television programs geared neither to offering Palestinian children’ programs in their own dialect nor to reflecting their social, cultural and political environment, do little to help shape well-rounded and well-adjusted individuals.

But there are some signs that the lack of attention to the education of young children is being reversed. Recently the Palestinian Education Ministry began paying greater attention to pre-school children and providing greater focus on this group features highly in the ministry’s current five-year plan. Non-governmental organizations have also started to show greater interest in addressing children going through those formative years.

While this official attention has focused primarily on the deficiencies within the formal pre-school education system, more attention should be paid to the impact media have on children. To this end, the Palestinian government, media companies in the private sector, as well as local and international non-governmental organizations must come together and create strategic partnerships that would produce politically and culturally relevant programming tailored especially for Palestinian children.


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