Closed Palestinian broadcasters say regulations unfair
December 14th, 2010 - 13:51 UTC
by Andy Sennitt.

Following yesterday’s shut-down of 12 independent West Bank radio and television stations by Palestinian Authority officials, owner blistered at accusations that they had failed to pay what were called exorbitant retroactive fees for the previous four years. “We do not want to violate the law, neither do we like to haggle, but local TV stations have not made money in years, and we are unable to pay the fees assessed to us by the ministry,” director of Bethlehem TV station Samih Sbeih told the Maan News Agency.

Mr Sbeih said he and other local station owners saw their work as a “public service, providing free information and news to local listeners,” and hoped that the government would be able to negotiate a more appropriate response to the matter with fees better suited to non-profit stations.

The stations were closed on the order of Palestinian Attorney General Ahmad Al-Mughni, who announced yesterday the closure of 12 local radio and television stations in the West Bank, citing failure to adhere to a new permit system after several months of grace time and a re-negotiation of fees. The decision to close the station was made by a technical committee formed of specialists and consultants from the Ministries of Telecommunications, Information, and regional licensing boards, Mr Al-Mughni said.

Officials from the Palestinian Journalists union decried the move, saying it came without warning, and alleging that the stations had not been given sufficient time to get their paperwork in order following the passage of new regulations. Speaking for the union, Abdul Nasser Al-Najjar said the closures violated earlier agreements between the stations and the committee to keep the broadcasters open until fees were paid.

Stations were closed in Nablus, Hebron, Bethlehem and Qalqiliya. Officials in Nablus said at least four stations in that city were shuttered. Director of the Al-Quran Radio station Sheikh Rida Melhis said his studio was shut by PA police officers, who he said were “disrespectful and aggressive.” The officers reportedly entered the building and ordered staff out. “We asked to broadcast a message to our listeners telling them what was going on,” Melhis said, “but we were prohibited.”