Palestinian TV airs daring satire
A rarity in the mideast, the political show spares no one – but even President Mahmoud Abbas is chuckling.
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"No one was allowed to talk about local issues when the Palestinians were busy confronting an outside enemy," Mr. Jabber explains. "Now in the West Bank there's kind of a normal situation. This gives us a chance to say things."Skip to next paragraph
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Free speech was not respected when former Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat established self-government in the West Bank and Gaza in the 1990s, and many journalists critical of the Palestinian government found themselves in jail.
TV official: Show should reflect 'good taste'
Free expression is a work in progress, even under the reformist administration of Mr. Abbas and Prime Minister Salam Fayyad. Alleging bias, the PA shut down the Ramallah bureau of Qatar-based TV network Al Jazeera in July after a guest accused Abbas of collaborating with Israel in Mr. Arafat's death.
Faten al-Wan, a television reporter for the US-backed Al Hurra satellite television network, says the satire show airs criticism that would provoke government protests if presented in a news broadcast.
"They are giving [the government] a hard time in every possible way," she says. "This is incredible. We don't do that as journalists because if they don't like what you say, you get phone calls."
The decision to air the political satire is part of a broader move by the PA to transform itself into a more liberal and transparent government. Last month, Mr. Fayyad laid out a vision for the reform of public institutions and economic development aimed at laying the groundwork for statehood by 2011.
Yasser Abed Raboo, a peace negotiator who heads the Palestinian Broadcast Company, says he wants to overhaul the television and radio station along the more independent public broadcast model of the British Broadcasting Corporation.
"They have free rein. Nobody is excluded, alive or dead," says Mr. Abed Raboo. "We are seeking a healthy society where everything is open."
Still, the transition is a gradual one. Abed Raboo says the show should reflect "good taste" and shouldn't try to prove "how liberal" it can be. "We are part of a market, not outside the market."
While the airing of the show is "refreshing," the shock value of the criticism is only tepid, says Mohaned el-Hamid, a culture critic at the Al Ayyam newspaper. "It's not harmful to the regime. It's reflecting what people already think. The satire is saying what people cannot say, and that's important."
Stuck and seeking alternatives
Abed Raboo wants to make the show, currently being watched after iftar, the evening meal when Muslims break their fast during Ramadan, a weekly staple. Though some are skeptical, Palestinians say the show is one of the most talked-about programs on the state-run television.
"If we continue to criticize Hamas, they will be more extreme," worries Abu Kamal Bashi, a Ramallah shopkeeper.
Back at the studio, as the crew prepares to move to a new location for a shot, director Raed Hilu draws a link between the comedy and the tragedy of the Palestinian people's seeming political stagnation.
"We are laughing at our pain, which is a very sad state," he says. "We are trying to motivate people to look for alternatives because we are stuck."